A father-son drama for anyone who finds ‘There Will Be Blood’ too cosy in its depiction of paternal love, ‘Custody’ is a bleakly intimate and terrifically sad look at a splintered family in freefall. The only thing that isn’t moving about French director Xavier Legrand’s depiction of a bitter custody battle is the eerily still camera keeping its characters under a steady gaze. It’s unblinking in a Dardenne-ish way and often hard to watch, with the emotional toll playing on its characters’ faces. The ending is a floorer too.
Legrand has spun out his own Oscar-nominated short, ‘Just Before Losing Everything’, into a domestic drama that boils with pain and anger. Reprising their roles are Léa Drucker and Denis Ménochet as a couple tussling for custody of 11-year-old Julien (Thomas Gloria). Their daughter (Mathilde Auneveux), on the cusp of adulthood, has a chance to escape the shadow of their abusive, needy dad. The spiky, sensitive Julien isn’t so lucky, forced to spend afternoons in his lunkish father’s almost comically small van.
Once a child actor himself, Legrand coaxes a heartbreaking turn from Gloria as a kid trapped in an impossible situation. His father, despite claiming to be a reformed character, is clearly a ticking time-bomb. Mum is simply fraught. You’re left wondering how the courts could have let this combustible situation happen. Maybe just this once, society is to blame.