Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
Original Title: Jusqu’à la garde
France, 2017. K.G. Productions, France 3 Cinema, Centre National du Cinema et de L’Image Animee, Canal+, Ciné+, France Televisions, Région Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Haut et Court, Procirep. Screenplay by Xavier Legrand. Cinematography by Nathalie Durand. Produced by Alexandre Gavras. Music by Thibault Deboaisne. Production Design by Jérémie Sfez. Costume Design by Laurence Forgue. Film Editing by Yorgos Lamprinos. Toronto International Film Festival 2017. Venice Film Festival 2017.
Xavier Legrand’s Oscar-nominated short film Just Before Losing Everything was a taut, intense thriller set in a supermarket where a woman barely escapes her abusive ex-husband with her children in tow. Legrand continues the story in this absorbing feature that begins with the couple in a court mediation over the custody of their younger son Julien, their older daughter Josephine not an issue as she is about to turn eighteen. The judge cannot verify Miriam’s claims of Antoine’s stalking her, the violence against their children is treated with skepticism because of a lack of concrete documentation, so she must concede to Antoine’s having Julien every other weekend despite the fact that the boy doesn’t want to. From their first weekend together, Antoine begins displaying his rage, alienating his own parents in the process, while his desire to get his wife back inspires increasingly threatening behavior until he reaches an explosion of violence in the film’s terrifying climax. This is not a particularly layered or subtle movie, it depicts the plight of abusive marriages with assured clarity and instructs your sympathy in no uncertain terms, but it also doesn’t cave in to the temptation to become a genre thriller in the vein of a more familiar Hollywood film. The more far-fetched the situations and the villains (think of Domestic Disturbance or Sleeping With The Enemy), the less connected it feels to a real issue, but Legrand directs it with calm assurance and it never feels manipulative or melodramatic. The whole cast comes across as believable, Léa Drucker is particularly good as Miriam, displaying all manner of emotions without letting them pour out, while Thomas Gioria is excellent as the young boy who breaks your heart in scenes that show him caught between his loyalty and his fear.