French prize winner ‘Custody’ gets state premiere in Stamford.
“Harrowing” and “heartfelt” are two of the words that keep popping up in reviews of the French film “Custody,” which had its state theatrical premiere at the Avon Theatre in Stamford under the auspices of the Alliance Francaise of Greenwich and the Hearst Movie & A Martini group.
The film about a bitter custody fight won the Silver Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival, marking the writer-director Xavier Legrand as a major new talent on the global stage.
Legrand is a film and theatre actor making his feature-length directing debut with “Custody” (after producing the 2013 Oscar-nominated short “Just Before Losing Everything”).
The audience of about 25 people who attended the screening were more or less stunned into silence by the picture, which shows the frustrated father Antoine (Denis Menochet) becoming increasingly distressed by the aloofness of his ex-wife Miriam (Lea Drucker) and the way his 11-year-old Julien (Thomas Gioria) recoils from the man on their weekend visits.
While many in the audience were shocked by the steady escalation of tension, and the violence in the closing scenes, Louisa Greene, who is the director of development for the nonprofit art house, said she knew from her background in domestic counseling where the sad story was headed.
“I could see what was going to happen,” Greene said of her experience working with couples in the aftermath of a divorce. She found the film to be totally realistic in its treatment of the ominous, slow boiling anger of a man alienated from his family by his own rage. “I thought the treament of the subject was totally accurate ... it’s an extraodinary film.”
The screening was part of the monthly French Cinematheque series at the Avon which mixes state premieres of recent movies with classics such as “Battle of Algiers” and “Pierrot le fou.” Alliance Francaise of Greenwich president Renee Ketcham and the booker for the Avon, Adam Birnbaum, program the series which dovetails with the Alliance’s annual festival, Focus on French Cinema, set for next April 26 to 30.
Everyone I talked with after the movie ageed that it wouldn’t really work without the extraordinary performance of Thomas Gioria as the frightened son. In the first scene in which Antoine menaces the boy, Julien’s fear is almost overpowering.
The director’s sensitivity with Gioria is due, no doubt, to his own background as a child actor. Legrand appeared as one of the students in Louis Malle’s classic 1987 World War II drama, “Au Revoir, Les Enfants.”
The slowly built suspense of the movie is augmented by the fact that Legrand chose not to employ a musical score. The silence becomes ominous in several scenes because we are so used to being guided emotionally by film scores.
At the Venice festival last year, Legrand told Variety reporter Elsa Keslassy that he shares Alfred Hitchcock’s preference for suspense over shock.
“As (the great director) said, ‘There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it,’ ” Legrand said.
The filmmaker hopes to reach people who will respond to the social concerns of a movie like “Custody” as well as its technique. “As directors, we’re given a lot of money to create something, and I feel a responsibility to take a stand on issues and make films that are accessible to everyone, not just cinephiles and festival audiences.”
Legrand has already been approached by U.S. film industry people about doing English-language movies but he prefers the freedom of directing scripts he has developed.
Up next for Legrand is a dark comedy dealing with female sexuality. “I’d like to make people laugh at things they’ve been told they can’t,” he told Variety.
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