Custody (Jusqu’a la Garde)Xavier Legrande (Fr 2016)Miriam Besson, Denis Menochet
viewed Tyneside Cinema 19 April 2018; ticket: £9.75
After sitting through the assault course of images designed to sell BMW’s and other junk, the audience might have thought that when the adverts and trailer were finished the selling shift was over and at last they could engage with a film.But all Xavier Legrande’s movie has to offer is another sales pitch.The product is different, perhaps ideological, but the idea is the same: to align the presented imagery with product.In the case of BMW it is an object that is the product of the selected imagery; in the case of Custody it is an objectified thought, produced through selected images.
I was reminded as I watched the desperate playing out of object images in Custody of a film I had viewed earlier in the year: The Touch by Ingmar Bergman.
The Touch with Bibi Anderson and Eliot Gould (Karin and David) is not a convincing film, one of Bergman’s least satisfactory.The dialogue is leaden, there is a core of uncertainty attaching to the direction as if Bergman lost confidence in his material, and the characterisation is sometimes crass (Did David’s mental state need to be explained by having relatives murdered in Nazi Death Camps? What did Bergman think he was doing introjecting this type of determinant into his movie script?).But whatever its weaknesses,the Touch remains true to Bergman’s respect for the intelligence of the audience.Bergman is not selling anything. Bergman does not make ads, he asks the audience to think for themselves.In contrast Legrande has little regard for the intelligence of his audience.In fact he doesn’t want the audience to think.He, Legrande, does all their thinking for them; the audience just have to tag along on the all too predictable scripted ride from A-B.Legrande’s BMW movie will drive them home .
Both The Touch and Custody, admittedly in different respects, have abusive behaviour at their core, but the directors’ ways of looking at abuse are quite different.The Touch asks questions about abuse.It asks questions that touch (sic) on questionsof identity and being.Bergman’s outwardly happily married woman, Karin, who suddenly latches onto to a relationship with a demanding violent stranger.The Touch pitches questions about the images that people present to the world; how appearance image can belie being and how what is seen may be overwhelmed by what is not seen.The questions posed in The Touch, however clumsily they may be represented are actual. Theycomport with how we experience life and people; events even when we have experienced them may baffle us; even those we think we know well may ultimately elude us.
Bergman, in The Touch for all its weaknesses, is on the side of life.
Legrande’s Custody is on the side of death and dearth.
The death and dearth, of dialogue?Perhaps Bergman was communicating in an era when it was possible to conceive of people able: to consider propositions that weren’t endorsed and reinforced by ideologically closed networks; to engage in discourses that did not have the imprimatur of someone’s idea of political correctness.Xavier Legrande does live in this era of boxed in communication and his movie perhaps simply reflects the signs of the times.
Nevertheless the story of Miriam and Antoine and their families, is wretched predictable fare.The old white hat / black hat story.Though in comparison even those old fashioned Westerns with men in hats were more variegated than Legrande’s scripted inventions.Sometimes the black hats did something nice and human, and they often had a sense of humour even if their humour leaned towards the sadistic.
Custody’s black hat male, Antoine, is a straight down the line ‘wrong’un’, constructed out of the assembly kit of feminist approved bad male components. No redeeming features.From first to last he is bad egg.And Miriam, she of the continually tortured mien, Antoine’s ex- is a good egg. So the script is a mono track development.From the moment we see Antoine in tag with his brief at the custody tribunal, Legrande presents him as an image of a man who cannot be trusted.The way his faciality of expression is edited into the sequence and the way he dresses, Antoine might as well have a placard hung about his neck: I am a manipulative bastard.Au contraire, Miriam with her carefully lens sculpted haggard look, might as well have a placard hung about her neck reading: victim.
So the movie has only one place to go: the big shitty male become more shitty and the victim and her kids become more victim.Of course as the whole thing winds itself up in an apoplexy of abuse, the project runs out of road.It has to abandon its quasi legalistic carapace take because it doesn’t provide enough bang for the buck.So Custody segues into Grande Guignole operatic genre with Antoine adopting the role of the great mad man avenger hunting his imagined victims with his rifle.
By the time Custody shifts genre, it has simply become parody.The audience reduced cannon fodder to be manipulated by a script that is a puppet show where the director keeps hold of all the strings.Similar to but different from the BMW advert that preceded it.