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Custody 2017

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About the Custody 💬

Miriam and Antoine Besson have divorced, and Miriam (Léa Drucker) is seeking sole custody of their son Julien (Thomas Gioria) to protect him from a father she claims is violent.

Julien is 11. He's in primary 6 at Monod Junior High. He loves his mother, sister, and he hates his father.

Antoine (Denis Ménochet) pleads his case as a scorned dad and the appointed judge rules in favor of joint custody. A hostage to the escalating conflict between his parents, Julien is pushed to the edge to prevent the worst from happening.

Are the Besson parents really who they claim to be? Can CUSTODY lawyers ever know the full picture? There are always two sides to a story. Whose side are you on?


Q: Like in your short film ''Just Before Losing Everything'', you are dealing with a social drama, domestic violence, in a way which generates great tension for the spectator.

Xavier Legrand: CUSTODY is built on fear. The fear inspired by a man prepared to do anything to get back together with a woman who wants to leave him to escape his violent behavior. The character of Antoine, played by Denis Ménochet, is a permanent threat for those around him. He makes everyone around him tense; he can only feel his own pain, and he would manipulate anyone, including his children. Women who have suffered domestic violence, like the one played by Léa Drucker, are always on high alert. They know that danger can surface anywhere, any time, and no one is safe. In France, a woman dies every two-and-a-half days as a result of domestic violence, and although the media talk about it, the topic remains largely taboo. Victims are afraid to come forward, neighbors and family don't say anything, because they don't want to interfere with the couple's relationship. There is heavy secrecy. I didn't want to tackle it like a current affairs subject. As in Just Before Losing Everything, I wanted to raise public awareness about this crisis by using the power of cinema, which has always fascinated me; that of Hitchcock, Haneke, or Chabrol, the kind of cinema which involves the spectator by playing with their intelligence and nerves.

Q: You also cite Night of the Hunter by Charles Laughton and The Shining by Stanley Kubrick as your main sources of inspiration to approach this subject.

Xavier Legrand: Three films guided me in the writing: Kramer Versus Kramer, Night of the Hunter, and The Shining. I then forgot about them during the shoot, but they helped me reflect on the themes I wanted to tackle and to find the moods and atmospheres which my characters move through. Kramer Versus Kramer is a film about parental rights which had a big effect on me. For the first time, you see a woman give up exclusive custody rights to her children, and it depicts the pain of separation with terrible acuity. Night of the Hunter illustrates how a person can be uncompromising with children to achieve their ends. The Shining inspired me for the last part of my film in terms of the madness, the isolation, the terror. Domestic violence can lead to pure horror and that's what I wanted to show.

Q: How did you use different genres or cinematic codes - realism, social drama, suspense, thriller - and work with them to enrich different layers of your film?

Xavier Legrand: First of all, I did a lot of research. I looked into the work of a family court judge, interviewed lawyers, police officers, social workers, and even attended group therapy sessions for violent men. Such a sensitive subject requires getting as close as possible to reality without simply making a documentary or a social drama which would in the end just tell the story of a tragic event. By inverting the story's viewpoint, I was able to highlight the suspense in the day-to-day. I adopted a dramatic approach in which we do follow a ''hero'', Antoine, but from the point of view of the various obstacles, he has to overcome to achieve his ends: the judge, his son, and his ex-wife. As such, the spectator experiences the judge's doubts, the pressure the child is subjected to and the terror of the hunted wife in real time. I wanted to provide a political and universal reading to the topic while immersing the spectator in the history of genre cinema (that of a monster seeking its prey), in which the suspense and tension feed the narrative and vice-versa.

Q: For your first feature-length film, you have made some quite firm choices of very sparse directing, notably in terms of the sound.

Xavier Legrand: Yes, there's practically no music in the film. The tension comes from the use of everyday sounds and their resonance - the echo in an apartment, the indicator on a car, a clock, an alarm. I thought about this early on, the dramatic effects of sound were already in the script. I'm not trying to inject the narrative with a fantasy element, but rather capture the noises of an anxiety-inducing reality. The same goes for the directing, I'm not looking for spectacular effects, but rather the repetition of the same framing, in places that are visited several times, to create a feeling of familiarity, and also of being closed in, to give the impression that we are entering a terrible spiral.

Q: What led you to explore the same theme in both your first two films?

Xavier Legrand: I already had Custody in mind when I made Just Before Losing Everything. It's a subject which affects me as a citizen and which is no doubt insufficiently dealt with. My short film took me everywhere in France, sometimes abroad, where it was shown in schools to open the debate and to educate young people on this subject. I wanted to continue probing the nature of this violence; the male domination in relationships; the insanity of possessiveness; and the crimes involving the family, which forms the backdrop of many cases, a which is a subject that fascinates me. I also wanted to learn more about the distinction between the marital couple and the parental couple. Does a violent, unsuitable partner necessarily make a bad parent? How can one decide? How can one judge? I investigated this subject. I met a family court judge and I followed her work.

Q: You begin the film in an almost documentary style, with a scene of gripping realism in which the couple goes before the judge.

Xavier Legrand: You have to bear in mind such hearings are very short - around 20 minutes, during which everything about the children’s future is decided. The justice system considers that if the violence is aimed at a parent and not the child, there's no need to break the connection. Yet this is a very complex question, even if the child has a legitimate need to have both parents; it can crystallize the conflict and become a means of pressure, an instrument for the partner who's been distanced and who can no longer reach the other partner. The judge handles around 20 cases a day, he or she only has a few minutes to assess the situation and see that the law is respected when faced with fragile people who are often playing a role, and with lawyers who are more or less competent. I tried to convey the tension and the emotional charge of that moment by filming it with the intensity of real time, and by putting the spectator in the place of the judge. The characters are positioned on an equal footing, represented by their respective lawyers. Who is the audience going to believe? What do they see unfolding before their eyes? What kind of argument will they be sensitive to? The spectator is plunged into uncertainty and must make their mind up. The film then shows what happens next, what the judge will never see.

Custody Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Xavier Legrand

Writing Credits

Xavier Legrand


Denis Ménochet

Léa Drucker

Thomas Gioria

Mathilde Auneveux

Mathieu Saikaly

Florence Janas

Saadia Bentaïeb

Sophie Pincemaille

Emilie Incerti-Formentini

Coralie Russier

Jean-Marie Winling

Martine Vandeville

Jean-Claude Leguay

Martine Schambacher

Cinematography by

Nathalie Durand

Genres: Drama, Thriller

Country: France

Custody Official Trailer

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