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  • Colin Fraser


FOUR AND A HALF STARS Shared custody becomes a vicious battle for a separated French couple.

Denis Ménochet, Thomas Gioria


When a marriage breaks down, collateral damage inevitably hits the children and seldom does it hit harder than in this astounding feature debut by director Xavier Legrand. It recalls the finest traditions of contemporary French drama with echoes of THE CLASS in its realistic approach to drama and A PROPHET for its gut-wrenching impact.

It’s a simple enough conceit, opening in an office where lawyers for a separated couple make a case for custody of their children. The mother asserts her husband is a monster, the father asserts that she’s spitefully over-reacting. It appears that the truth lies somewhere in the middle and the judge awards primary care to the mother with weekend access to the father. If only she’d known the full story…

The success of CUSTODY lies in faultless performance, especially that of eleven year old Thomas Gloria who plays their son Julien. So utterly convincing is his portrayal of an utterly terrified child (with good cause, his father is indeed a monster) that the film becomes almost unwatchable. In fact, the emotional intensity of his suffering almost derails the film as you start wondering about the trauma the role is inflicting, and duty of care to the actor. Of course, this comes to mind afterwards, so all-consuming are the events on screen.

CUSTODY is a distressing film that quickly builds from its socio-realist start into a pulse-raising thriller, if not horror, as the family unravels under the pressure of untenable conflict. This is filmmaking at its finest. Legrand’s point perfect observations of kindred dysfunction are the bones of his story, vicious emotional breakdown is its dark heart. Harrowing certainly, but sugar coating the reality of stories like these (which play out with heart-breaking regularity) is an insult to those who live through them.

It may be cliché to call this edge-of-the-seat drama that never lets go, yet that’s exactly what you’re in for. CUSTODY is undoubtedly one of the years best films.

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