Make love, not freakin’ war! Especially not with each other!
Miriam (Léa Drucker) and Antoine (Denis Ménochet) have just recently gotten a divorce and it wasn’t very pretty. However, they both agree that it’s time to let the past be the past and just focus on the future and creating a good home for their son, Julien (Thomas Gioria), who they have shared-custody over. However, it becomes apparently clear that Julien not only wants to stay with his mom much more, but never ever see his father. This obviously drives Antoine up the wall and sooner than later, we begin to see the real side to him, even further fueled by the fact that his ex-wife has now moved on in her own life and doesn’t need him around anymore. But hey, they’re both reasonable adults who can get through anything, just as they did before, right?
Custody is the kind of movie that, tense as it gets, still finds small, interesting ways of surprising you. For one, we never get to know how this couple was when they were together and in-love; we only get to see the fall-out, the hurt, the anger, the heartbreak, the sadness, and most importantly, the rage. This is a smart way to tell this story done by writer/director Xavier Legrand cause it gives us this sense of mystery, as we don’t know who’s really in the wrong with this relationship and whether or not what the other is saying about the other person holds any truth. All we can do is watch, understand, and get a general picture of.
But even then, there’s still some surprises, as well as a lot of tension. Like a lot, a lot.
But it’s the natural kind of tension that just constantly balloons up until the very end and you realize that it’s almost too much to sit by and handle. Legrand seems to have a particular taste for taking an uncomfortable situation, and finding ways on how to make that situation even more uncomfortable and never allowing us, the audience, to leave it. We’re stuck there, up close, personal, and without much of an exit-sign in sight, making Custody 100 minutes of pure punishment and unease.
And yes, this can obviously get to be a bit much at times – there’s only so many scenes one can watch of a character freaking out, time and time again – but no matter what, Custody is always building towards something dangerous and scary. We’re not sure what, or where, or how, but you can just feel it in the air and it’s a major credit to Legrand for handling all of this suspense so well.
It’s also a major credit to him that he allows for both characters involved with this custody-battle of sorts, to be both human, three-dimensional, and understandable, even if they don’t always do and say the right things at the right times. The clearest example of this is Menochet’s Antoine who, begins to show his true colors as time goes on and the reality of his divorce begins to settle in, which allows you to be terrified of him, but also sympathize with him in a small way, too. He’s an angry, pissed-off, and abusive man who you want to hate, but at the same time, also realize that his marriage is done, his kid hates him, and his wife is already with somebody else. You want to give him a hug, but want to stay away from him, too.
Preferably 500 feet, or so.
But it’s this attention to character that makes Custody so special and so hard to shake-off. It’s been nearly a month for me and really, it hasn’t left my mind – some of it’s a little too unrelenting, as if Legrand is just enjoying the torture-porn aspect a bit too much – but as a whole, it’s an interesting, intense, and smart look at divorce and what the next steps may mean. It’s no cautionary-tale by any means, but it’s surely the kind of movie that makes you think twice about who you spend your time with and who you choose to break-off with.
Consensus: Unpredictably bleak, grim and suspenseful, Custody begins as a simple family-drama, but soon turns into something much more dangerous and scary, always fueled by Legrand’s great writing and directing.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Kino Lorber