Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2018 5:41 pm 
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Male violence in families, a feature based on research

Well received at Cannes, Xavier Legrand's Custody/Jusqu'à la garde plunges the audience into an almost unbearable family situation of a bad dad and doesn't let go. It was reviewed by A.A. Dowd of AVClub and Boyd van Hoeij of Hollywood Reporter. Dowd says, "Custody doesn’t do much more than plunge the audience into this hellish situation, but it shrewdly understands the bad dad’s pathetic pathology, and the film may resonate for anyone who’s grown up under the unhealthy supervision of a mean bastard. Take that as a sobering recommendation."

This is the actor Xavier Legrand's first feature as a director, which grew out of the plan for a series of shorts, specifically from one, 2013 short, Avant que de tout perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), a 2014 Oscar nominee for Best Live Action Short, in which a mother flees a violent husband with her two children.

The film begins with what we would call a custody hearing, here the Juge d'Instruction meets with the mother (Léa Drucker) and father (Denis Ménochet) - both of whom were in the short in similar roles - of Julien (Thomas Gioria), with their lawyers (female) to decide whether the father, Antoine Besson, is to share custody of Julien. There is an older sister, Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux), but custody isn't an issue with her. A statement from Julien is read stating that he hates and fears his father and does not want to have any contact with him. The lawyer for Antoine is more forceful and articulate than Miriam's, the mothers, and though statements suggest Antoine is highly suspect, the other side lacks concrete evidence of his violent and threatening behavior. He has given up his job and moved to be near the children and his wife, which suggests he values them. Of course, in the event, it is only proof of an unhealthy obsession that makes him increasingly dangerous.

This is the key scene, because it shows a faulty system. The judge decides Antoine can share custody. This proves horrible for the boy and ultimately dangerous for him and his mother. His sister is in process of getting pregnant at 18 and going off to form her own family with a young man. Why did the judge not see this was a dangerous man? Because the hearing was too short, and she did not receive enough information.

The well-staged, horrific scenes of Antoine's hostile, menacing, invasive behavior are interrupted by a big party for Josephine's birthday, a sequence of almost violent and exaggerated merry-making that shows the first-time director's over-enthusiasm. In the smaller family scenes in cars and apartments he is impeccable, and shows the benefits of three years of careful research into the behavior of violent spouses. AS the chief victim at the center of this situation forced into a state of hypervigilance, Thomas Gloria is disturbingly convincing. At the Q&A after the film was shown at Lincoln Center, Legrand pointed out that every day and a half a woman dies at the hands of a violent man in France. It is his concern over this tragic situation and a broken system rather than personal trauma that led to his making this singularly unpleasant but unforgettable and significant film.

Custody/Jusq'à la garde, mins, debuted at Venice Sept. 2017, showing next at Toronto and 20 other festivals. Screened for this review as part of the New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Mar. 2018. Released theatrically in France 7 Feb. 2018, it received rave reviews (AlloCiné press rating 4.2). Metacritic rating 82%. It will be released by Kino Lorber in the US.

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