Denis Ménochet plays an ex-husband and a violent father in “Until custody”. An extremely complex role, from which the actor struggled to detach himself after filming.
Up to custody : a suffocating drama
Released in 2018, Up to custody starts with a confrontation between two divorced parents, Miriam (Léa Drucker) and Antoine (Denis Ménochet), facing a judge. The latter read the testimony of their son Julien (Thomas Gioria), who explains wanting to stay with his mother and his big sister Joséphine (Mathilde Auneveux). Frightened by his father, the young boy no longer wishes to see him. A request that leaves Antoine distraught and in the dark.
If it starts off as a drama, Xavier Legrand’s first feature film gradually takes the form of a thriller, until an extremely violent and anxiety-provoking finale. The presence and reactions of Antoine, who appears as he sees fit in the life of his ex-partner and his son, are becoming more and more disturbing.
First distilling a dull tension that ends up bursting, Up to custody deals with domestic violence by adopting the point of view of a teenager, thus restoring his fears and his discomfort. In 2019, it stands out as one of the big winners at the Caesar, awarded in four categories: Best Film, Best Actress for Léa Drucker, Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing.
An executioner who thinks he is a victim
With Up to custody, Xavier Legrand finds the characters of his short film Before I lose it all, already worn by Léa Drucker, Denis Ménochet and Mathilde Auneveux, and crowned with a César. In the latter, Miriam tries to flee Antoine with her two children by going to his place of work, a hypermarket in which he comes to look for them.
The film therefore reveals what follows this brutal separation. To build the disintegration of the family unit, the fear of Julien and the progressive explosion of the father, the filmmaker relies on three feature films during the writing, in addition to his long documentation work: Kramer vs. Kramer, The hunter’s night and Shining.
From the start of Up to custody, Antoine presents himself as a victim who does not understand the turn of events. This allows him to legitimize his actions in the rest of the story, until the unbearable conclusion. During the promotion, the director ensures, quoted by Allocine :
It’s a tough role where he (Denis Ménochet) has to tackle violence, manipulation, darkness head-on without losing his character, without being rejected and refusing to understand him. He has to slip into the shoes of an unhappy man, self-righteous, who tries to be loved, but lives in denial. (…) He carries within him that alloy of robust virility and childish wound that is often found in men who violate their wives.
“It took me a month to get over it”
The character of Antoine plunges Denis Ménochet into deep discomfort, as the actor confides to 20 minutes in 2018. On the set, the actor does everything not to frighten his young partner Thomas Gioria:
I threw valves at him as soon as Xavier cut the plugs so as not to really scare him. I didn’t like the feelings my character stirred in me and I was still worried about traumatizing my young partner.
Once the shots are over, Denis Ménochet has difficulty leaving the role and is surprised to have unusual reactions, especially during a stay in Brittany that he allows himself to create a vacuum. In an interview for OCS, he reveals about this:
It took me a month to recover. (…) I went to Brittany, to see my parents, who didn’t recognize me at the start. (…) There are times when when you have frustrations, all of a sudden you feel that things go up quickly and you say to yourself: ‘Ah, that’s not me’.
The actor is also aware that such strong roles are very rare. As well as interpretations as overwhelming and terrifying as his.