A deserved double winner at the Venice Film Festival for its intense evocation of an all-too-real nightmare, this one comes with a big trigger warning.
During Custody’s opening scene — a judge-mediated custody hearing between ex-spouses Miriam (Léa Drucker) and Antoine (Denis Ménochet) — the latter’s lawyer pleads with the judge to side with her client, arguing that, despite his reported history of violence and the reluctance of the couple’s 11-year-old son to live with him, “Nothing here is black and white.” Custody plays something of a poker face in its first few minutes, leaving us as reliant as the judge is on arguments like these, but outside of the mediation room, the film’s tight 93-minute runtime builds to a finish that will conclusively — and terrifyingly — prove that claim false.
The skill of Custody, however, is in the fact that we don’t need this definitive proof to form our judgment, because we can feel the silent threat of it in every preceding frame. Each of its naturalistic scenes, whether ostensibly quotidian or celebratory, is suffused with simmering dread and ticking tension; even when he’s absent, Antoine looms over the family’s life like a dark cloud. With such restrained mastery over a thriller-like tone, Custody reveals the family’s all-too-common reality as the horror it really is.
What did you think? Who should watch it?