(Xavier Legrand)

Thomas Gloria in a scene from Xavier Legrand's  Custody  {Photo: K.G. PRODUCTIONS}

Thomas Gloria in a scene from Xavier Legrand's Custody {Photo: K.G. PRODUCTIONS}

Custody screens at the AMC River East 21 on Wednesday, October 18 at 6:30PM, Friday, October 20 at 8:15PM, and Tuesday, October 24 at 3:30PM. Director Xavier Legrand is scheduled to attend the first two screenings. For additional ticketing information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here

Former child actor Xavier Legrand was nominated for his first Academy Award for the short film Just Before Losing Everything. His debut feature, Custody continues where that short left off, leaving Miriam (Léa Drucker) and Antoine (Denis Ménochet) settling the details of their divorce. Custody’s opening sequence is a chamber procedural, finding Miriam and Antoine alongside their lawyers as they make their cases to a judge. Miriam wants full custody of their son Julien (Thomas Gloria), while Antoine pleads with the judge for joint custody. These initial moments summon the memory of the film of another actor turned director, John Cassavetes’ Minnie and Moskowitz. Here, however, if you’re unfamiliar with Legrand’s short film, the emotionally charged exchange before a judge operates with mother and father as shades of gray. But those familiar with Just Before Losing Everything will approach the scene with an even greater degree of anxiety, frightfully aware of the abusive relationship that Miriam has clawed her way out of.

Custody is essentially composed of moments of intense domestic peril, as Legrand centers the film on the fraught relationship between Antoine and Julien. As Miriam attempts to put the pieces of her life together, she constantly finds her successes muted by Antoine’s persistent re-entry into her life. It’s an emotionally taxing film, in what frequently registers as a freshly open lesion every time Antoine rears his head into Miriam’s life. But there’s something about the way the film moves that registers as too calculating, where the emotional rawness of Custody begins to feel too telegraphed and obvious. None of which registers as more obvious than when the film concludes in a sequence that summons the spirit of The Shining. It’s a competently composed exercise with persuasive performances that unfortunately strains for authenticity.