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10 Directors to Watch: Xavier Legrand’s ‘Custody’ Wins Debut Feature Kudos

Emerging French auteur follows up his Oscar-nominated short with tense feature-length portrait of a family torn by domestic violence.

A self-taught director best known in France for his work as a stage actor, Legrand takes an everyday case of domestic violence an elevates it to riveting family drama in “Custody.” The movie, whose script he developed for several years, won two prizes, including best debut film, at the 2017 Venice film festival.

As a near-lifelong performer who appeared in Louis Malle’s “Au Revoir les Enfants” as a child, Legrand says he loves working with actors. He first tried his hand at directing in 2013 with the short film “Just Before Losing Everything,” which earned him an Oscar nomination, as well as a César award.

Custody” picks up where the short leaves off, once again suggesting rather than showing the domestic violence. “As Alfred Hitchcock said, ‘There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it,’ ” says Legrand, who also sees himself as a politically minded filmmaker.

“As directors, w e’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,” he says.

Even so, Legrand’s style hews closer to the European arthouse tradition (think Maurice Pialat) than more overtly manipulative melodrama. In fact, he studied previous films about domestic violence to identify specific cliches he wanted to avoid.

“The script has to lay down every single detail, and I make my production design choices accordingly,” says the director, who emphasized sounds of everyday life in lieu of a conventional soundtrack.

For his next film, Legrand will go in a “different direction,” preparing a dark, twisted and suspenseful comedy dealing with the female body. “I’d like to make people laugh at things they’ve been told they can’t,” he says.

Though he has been approached by agents in the U.S., Legrand is “pacing himself” before jumping into English-language filmmaking, preferring to make films based on material he developed — at least for now.

Influences: Alfred Hitchcock, Claude Chabrol, Michael Haneke
Agents: Zelig

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