French domestic abuse thriller terrifying US audiences

It is an unsatisfactory but all-too-familiar denouement of divorce battles involving children: the judge who must allow a violent man back into his family's lives because there is no proof of abuse claims.

French domestic abuse thriller terrifying US audiences
Xavier Legrand on stage at the COLCOA festival in Los Angeles. Photo: Valerie Macon/AFP
Oscar-nominated Xavier Legrand's French-language thriller “Custody,” an unsparing account of abuse focusing as much on the damage to the children, has earned acclaim at home and on the festivals circuit ahead its summer US release.
“I would like people to realize that domestic violence is a real scourge in our society and that children are also victims who are too often forgotten,” Legrand, 40, told AFP during the COLCOA festival of French film in Los Angeles, which wraps on Monday.
“And especially that they understand that these kinds of situations can turn into horror. These are murders. Under no circumstances are these crimes of passion.”
Over half of the killings of women in the United States are related to domestic violence, government figures show, with victims often dying at the hands of an ex who was granted shared custody of the children.
Last year the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed around 10,000 murders of women in the decade from 2003, finding that more than half were perpetrated by a romantic partner or ex. 
Data from Legrand's native France — 123 women killed by domestic violence in 2016 — demonstrate that the problem is not confined to the US.
Stranger danger
The frightening reality of domestic violence runs counter to an idea perpetuated by Hollywood that the threat to women from men comes in the form of lunatic serial killers lurking in dark alleys. 
With a few creditable exceptions — among them “Tyrannosaur” (2011), “Once Were Warriors” (1995) or “Sleeping with the Enemy” (1991) — spousal abuse hasn't been as captivating a subject for filmmakers as the much less common “stranger danger.”
“Custody,” which was written by Legrand, premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year, where it was awarded the Silver Lion for best direction and the Lion of the Future for best first feature film.
Lauded by the Los Angeles Times as a “masterclass in tension modulation and psychological entrapment,” it is released on July 13 in New York before getting a nationwide rollout.
Legrand's debut feature-length movie recounts the custody battle of the abused wife and a menacing husband first portrayed in his powerful Oscar-nominated 2013 short “Just Before Losing Everything.”
Starting out as a nerve-jangling social drama, “Custody” simmers until it boils over into a full-blown, stomach-churning thriller, its pared-back screenplay aided by a conspicuous lack of music, a la Claude Chabrol or Alfred 
Lea Drucker and Denis Menochet reprise the roles they played in the short, while newcomer Thomas Gioria embodies the conflicting feelings and terrors of the couple's traumatized 12-year-old son.
Menochet, in particular, has been singled out by critics for his terrifying but nuanced portrayal of a man humiliated by allegations of abuse and driven by possessive rage.
Perhaps more impressive still was debut of Gioria, who convinced Legrand as soon as they met that he had the sensitivity, maturity and fragility — not to mention courage — that the role required. 
“I started at the same age as Thomas. So I know that at that age, the mind is very clear about reality and fiction,” said Legrand, an accomplished theater actor who studied at the National Academy of Dramatic Arts in Paris. 
He was clear from the beginning that while the menace is ever-present, he wanted the violence itself to take place off screen, hidden from view as it is in real life. 
The filmmaker met abuse victims, a judge, psychologists and police, and attended violent men's groups to prepare for the movie.
e always intended “Custody” to play out as a thriller, he says, rather than the type of social drama mastered by directors like Federico Fellini, Ken Loach or Mike Leigh.
“The stories that some women told me were really like thrillers,” he told AFP. “That is the essence of this kind of situation. Fear is at the heart of domestic and family violence.”

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French films with English subtitles to watch in November

As days get shorter and temperatures drop, November is a great month to enjoy a warm and comforting moment at the cinema. Here’s a round up of the French movies with English subtitles to see in Paris this month.

Cinema in France
Photo: Loic Venance/AFP

The cinema group Lost in Frenchlation runs regular screenings of French films in the capital, with English subtitles to help non-native speakers follow the action. The club kicks off every screening with drinks at the cinema’s bar one hour before the movie, so it’s also a fun way to meet people if you’re new to Paris.

These are the events they have coming up in November.

Friday, November 5th

Boîte Noire – What happened on board the Dubai-Paris flight before it crashed in the Alps? In this thriller Matthieu, a young and talented black box analyst played by Pierre Niney (star of Yves Saint-Laurent among other movies) is determined to solve the reason behind this deadly crash, no matter the costs. 

The screening will take place at the Club de l’étoile cinema at 8pm. But you can arrive early for drinks at the bar from 7pm. 

Tickets are €10 full price, €8 for students and all other concessions, and can be reserved here.

Sunday, November 14th

Tralala – In the mood for music? This new delightful French musical brings you into the life of Tralala (played by Mathieu Amalric), a 48 years old, homeless and worn-out street singer, who one day gets mistaken for someone else. Tralala sees an opportunity to get a better life by taking on a new personality. He now has a brother, nephews, ex-girlfriends, and maybe even a daughter. But where is the lie? Where is the truth? And who is he, deep down?

The night will start with drinks from 6pm followed by the screening at 7pm at the Luminor Hôtel de Ville cinema. There is also a two-hour cinema-themed walk where you’ll be taken on a “musicals movie tour” in the heart of Paris, which begins at 4pm.

Tickets cost €10, or €8 for students and concessions, and can be found here. Tickets for the walking tour cost €20 and must be reserved online here.

Thursday, November 18th

Illusions Perdues – Based on the great novel series by Honoré de Balzac between 1837 and 1843, this historical drama captures the writer Lucien’s life and dilemmas who dreams about a great career of writing and moves to the city to get a job at a newspaper. As a young poet entering the field of journalism, he is constantly challenged by his desire to write dramatic and eye-catching stories for the press. But are they all true?

The evening will kick off with drinks at L’Entrepôt cinema bar at 7pm, followed by the movie screening at 8pm. Tickets are available online here, and cost €8.50 full price; €7 for students and all other concessions.

Sunday, November 21st

Eiffel – Having just finished working on the Statue of Liberty, Gustave Eiffel (played by Romain Duris) is tasked with creating a spectacular monument for the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris. It’s ultimately his love story with Adrienne Bourgès (Emma Mackey) that will inspire him to come up with the idea for the Eiffel Tower.

After a first screening last month, Lost in Frenchlation is organising a new one at the Luminor Hôtel de Ville cinema, with pre-screening drinks at the cinema bar. 

Tickets cost €10, or €8 for students and concessions, and can be found here

Thursday, November 25th

Les Héroïques – Michel is a former junkie and overgrown child who only dreams of motorbikes and of hanging out with his 17-year-old son Léo and his friends. But at 50 years old, he now has to handle the baby he just had with his ex, and try not to make the same mistakes he has done in the past. 

The film will be followed by a Q&A with the director Maxime Roy who will discuss his very first feature. 

Tickets cost €10, or €8 for students and concessions, and can be found here.

Full details of Lost in Frenchlation’s events can be found on their website or Facebook page. In France, a health pass is required in order to go to the cinema.