Custody (Jusqu’a la garde)


Employing a piercing clarity and some very fine performances, Custody takes a close look at how children are affected by acrimonious relationships. During the films strikingly objective opening scene, framed in tight close-up shots to ratchet up the intensity, a now separated couple and their respective lawyers try to convince a judge of their respective points of view in an intimate court setting. The mother, who wants nothing to do with her husband, would rather not have her two children see him. The father presses for joint custody with weekend visitation rights for their son, who is a minor. The situation slowly brews into angry accusations from both sides. A week later the judge rules in favour of the father and complications ensue.

Director Xavier Legrand, in his debut feature, which deservedly nabbed the Silver Lion at the Venice film festival, employs a Dardenne Brother’s sense of realism to the affair. In scenes of stark rigour, we gradually learn the truth about both parents and their extended circle of family and friends with the screenplay, credited to the director, using slow burn exposition to let us observe and understand. In this way, the film has an absorbing quality that is aided by the three central performances – the two parents and the son. The young boy especially is very convincing. He remains in a near constant state of fright and terror, which may be due to either his father’s demeanour or perhaps what his mother has fed him about the man, and this echoes the audience’s uncertainty about the situation as well. The older daughter meanwhile has her own reasons to be concerned – she is a few days away from turning eighteen, a fact that will no longer require the court to consider her a minor and therefore allow her to make her own independent decisions about whom she wants to stay with.

If Custody falters it is in the third act when the script projects where it is headed and uncharacteristically strips away its previous restraint in favour of outright confrontation. This may be ultimately where the film wanted to reach but it is in stark contrast to craftiness on display during the first two thirds that are sublimely gripping. But that is no reason to ignore this film for Custody seems to know the answer to the marital conundrum – can a bad husband be a good father?

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and