Stars: Léa Drucker, Denis Ménochet, Thomas Gioria, Mathilde Auneveux
For its superior first half at least this French drama feels like a Dardenne bros-style social realist picture. It begins with a wordy but entirely gripping court hearing as a judge deliberates on the custody of a child in the presence of the estranged parents Antoine (Ménochet
) and Miriam (Drucker) and their lawyers. Miriam is requesting full custody of their twelve-year-old son Julien (Gloria) claiming that Antoine has behaved violently toward him. They also have a daughter, Josephine (Auneveux), but as she is about to reach eighteen she is able to make her own mind up, although, as we find out, she has her own problems. As Miriam is unable to provide concrete proof of her husband’s violence, the judge grants Antoine access. The father goes on to manipulate and cajole Julien, in an attempt to gain re-admittance to the family, and to find out where Miriam now lives. The picture is horribly convincing in its depiction of a vulnerable child caught in the crossfire of a marital breakdown. The bearlike Menochet (the farmer in Ingloruious Basterds) is in turns brutal and self-pitying, while hinting at the bruised humanity beneath. The real standout is young Gioria as Julien, a remarkable performance in which his character is either fighting back tears or cringing from an anticipated blow. Alas, after a nuanced and well-observed build-up, the story descends into Ken Loach-style melodrama in the latter part, and by the conclusion it’s practically a full-blown horror movie.