‘I’d like to understand. I don’t know what they’re told.’
Sometimes you hear that a film is really good and you feel a degree of reluctance about seeing it as you’re reasonably sure you’ll be disappointed. That’s how I felt about going to see Custody. It was almost as if I made myself see it, wanting to see if the hype was warranted.
It so is. In fact, it’s one of my top films of the year so far. It’s extraordinarily good. We’ve seen the aftermath of a marital break-up in all manner of ways – from comedic to melodramatic – but never quite like this. The story plays out in such an incredible and distinctive manner. The opening sequence is a long scene with divorcing couple Miriam (Léa Drucker) and Antonie (Denis Ménochet) sat with their respective lawyers in front of the judge. The judge reads a statement from their young son Julien (Thomas Gioria – a real one to watch) in which he expresses the fact that he doesn’t want to see his father or, as he calls him, ‘that man’. He laments the fact his soon-to-be 18-year-old sister Josephine doesn’t have to spend time with their father whilst he is too young to fully get a say. The rest of the scene discusses the validity of Julien’s viewpoint along with other issues relating to the divorce before the judge dismisses them, she’ll let them know her verdict in a week.
Within that scene we learn so much in a truly seamless manner. We can observe the tensions between Miriam and Antonie, along with the barely contained anger coming from the later and what appears to be concealed fear from the former. Julien’s letter is eloquent and heartfelt, immediately establishing how embattled and weary he is. It’s far too much from someone so young; showcasing the painful bond that can exist between parent and child.
And then we come to meet him, and spend most of the film with him. Whilst Drucker and Ménochet are respectively excellent playing his parents, Gioria is simply incredible. I don’t doubt this will be the best child actor performance we’ll see this year. He’s so believable, hauntingly so, that it heightens the devastation and suspense the viewer experiences.
What’s breathtaking about how the film plays out is how carefully told it all is. There’s a restraint that has an uncomfortable air of familiarity about it, that this is how some family dynamics truly are. The film keeps you guessing about what to come next as it’s so carefully constructed. A particular highlight is the scene with Josephine in the toilet, the door remains a barrier between us and her. We cannot see everything, only the small gap between the door and the floor, so we’re reliant on what we can hear instead. It’s a reminder that we’re a voyeur, an intruder on their lives.
That leads onto the ending which is just superb. To say anymore would spoil it but it’s the kind of ending that will have you thinking ‘that’s exactly the perfect way to end the film’.
Custody is in selected UK cinemas now.