“Custody” (“Jusqu’à la garde”) is a gripping drama of a broken family as the father uses his young son as a weapon against his ex-wife. The film is an extremely notable first feature for Xavier Legrand who also wrote the screenplay. Legrand received the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival for this film which builds on Legrand’s Oscar-nominated 2012 short film “Just Before Losing Everything”.
When his parents divorce, the court decides that the father will share joint custody of 11 year-old Julien (Thomas Gioria) even though Julien rejects his father (Denis Ménochet) as he is very uncomfortable around him. Julien’s older sister is old enough to decide to stay away from their father.
The cast is impressive. Gioria’s expressive face conveys a range from sadness to pain and fear. As the father’s anger builds toward his ex-wife (Léa Drucker), his actions involving Julien become more threatening. Ménochet becomes a frightening presence to the fearful ex-wife and children.
Xavier Legrand skillfully builds excruciating tension to an extremely tense climax.
After the film Xavier Legrand said that he changed the POV (point of view) of the film to create tension. The camera would follow a character without adopting his POV.
He added that the father manipulates the others as Legrand believes that violent men, before violence, are manipulators. He said he wanted to investigate the “repercussions of violence”. He wanted to make the audience “listen to silence”.
Legrand said his film is “not in any way personal”. He described himself as a “theater actor fascinated by Greek tragedy.” Léa Drucker who gives an intensely emotional performance as the mother is a theater actor like Legrand. The director said that through testing, he found Thomas Gioria (the young boy) whom he described as an “enormous talent”.
Legrand realized that “Custody” is a “very difficult and dangerous subject for a first film”. He spent three years doing “immersive research” with judges, support groups, and violent men.