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Xavier Legrand

This dynamic feature film debut from French filmmaker Xavier Legrand stunned viewers when it closed the Venice Film Festival with its heart-stopping portrait of the impact of an acrimonious divorce on an ordinary family. Complex and nuanced, it slowly builds to an almost unbearable conclusion. This is incredibly strong filmmaking, something which such a difficult subject deserves.

"Complex and nuanced, it slowly builds to an almost unbearable conclusion."

The story begins at a court hearing where Antoine (Denis Menochet) and Miriam (Lea Drucker) are before a judge in the middle of a bitter custody battle. The couple’s older daughter Josephine will shortly turn 18 and has decided not to have anything to do with her father. But young Julien (Thomas Gioria) has made a statement indicating that he strongly feels the same. As the lawyers argue both sides, the judge is unsure of who is telling the truth, making the fateful decision to allow Antoine access to his son. Julien reluctantly goes on weekend visits with his father, who initially seems pleased to reconnect with the boy, but slowly his true motives become devastatingly clear.

Legrand walked away as Best Director at Venice, an entirely deserved prize. His ability to balance overt menace with the day-to-day insidiousness of domestic violence is extraordinary. But he also sensitively reveals how complex relationships can be, extended family included, for those who have lived under a shadow of violence for years. The commitment to the project from all the performers – particularly Menochet and young Gioria, both exceptional – needs to be seen. Custody is an undeniably tough watch, but such an important one.