Custody

An award-winner at Venice, Xavier LeGrand’s feature debut as director stars actor Denis Menochet, who is probably best-known as the father in the magnificently creepy opening sequence of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards.

There (one of the best sequences in all Tarantino’s work), he’s the Dad protecting his family from the menace of Hans Landau the SS Colonel; here, he’s now become the threat, playing a father, Antoine, who manages to win weekend custody of his 12 year old son Julien, despite the kid being manifestly petrified of his old man.

The scenes between father and son (amazing perf from Thomas Gioria) are unbearable – tense, horrific, so palpable and real. The mum (Lea Drucker) wants to escape this man forever, but the court ruling means he always shows up to collect his son, and even the slightest presence of this man (they call him “l’autre”) sends panic through the family, even a text from him throws them into disarray.

The film is very good in parts, in the tensions and hand-me-down repercussions of emotional abuse. Menochet is very good, swinging in mood from violent to vulnerable, although it’s always an act. The judge might be fooled, but I wasn’t.

LeGrand ratchets up the action in the final act, creating a mix of social realism and thriller, which works well in patches. I’d have liked a bit more milieu and character, for it to decide if it was critical of the systems and procedures which shelter this type of abusive man. “Which one of you is the bigger liar?” states the judge, laying out her decision. The law, I guess, doesn’t really get to know people, and neither do we in this film, though I’d a pretty firm idea Antoine was a wrong’un. 

As a caring Dad, I couldn’t really stand to watch this or even fathom the situation. It was, frankly, horrid at times and I couldn’t think why anyone would want to watch it. But Menochet and his director do get down to business very quickly and economically, and make a decent effort in showing how this must be going on everywhere, behind closed doors. And you realise how the truth between people is very hard to uncover.

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