We begin the film in the magistrate’s chair as a divorcing couple, Antoine and Miriam, and their counsels argue the case for custody. Their 18-year-old daughter is old enough to make her own choice: she is severing ties with her father. Miriam argues for sole custody of 11-year-old Julien, offering in evidence the boy’s own written testimony. Antoine, clearly stung, implies that the boy’s rejection is the product of Miriam’s brainwashing.
For the remainder of this dauntingly unblinkered film we watch the consequences of the magistrate’s decision, which may or may not be the one we arrived at too. First-time director Xavier Legrand was a child actor himself which may explain the intense involvement he obtains from Thomas Gioria as Julien, tellingly absent from the first scene but at the centre of every other in the continuing contest that follows.
“Custody isn’t just a fine film that makes vivid and visceral the escalating, suffocating all-pervasive terror of domestic abuse in a way few films have managed. It’s also an extremely auspicious debut for a writer-director with the rare, almost classicist ability to make utterly riveting drama out of painfully real life.” — Jessica Kiang, The Playlist