Dir: Xavier Legrand

With: Thomas Gioria, Léa Drucker, Denis Ménochet

Runtime: 94 minutes

KUDOS to Glasgow Film Festival audiences for not only battling against the Beast from the East, but for voting Xavier Legrand’s blistering domestic drama their favourite picture.

Taut, disturbing, and timely, Custody, now going on general release, is not an easy watch. But its fearlessness in taking on the highly charged subject of family life after divorce makes for an unforgettable picture. This is a film that decides where it is going, what it wants to say, and does not flinch.

Legrand opens his tale with a black screen and a background hubbub. From this comes the sound of women’s heels cutting through the din as a judge and clerk make their way to a hearing. Just another day in another French courthouse, except for the couple waiting for their case to be heard.

Miriam and Antoine (Lea Drucker and Denis Menochet) had two children together. Their daughter is almost 18 and can make her own decision about whether she wants to see her father. Julien, the couple’s 11-year-old son, has given a statement to the court in which he says he does not want to see “that man” as he calls him.

There is mention of threatening behaviour and harassment on Antoine’s part, all denied by him. He claims the children are being turned against him. “I just want news of my kids,” he says. “We just want peace,” sighs Miriam. “Which of you is the bigger liar?” wonders the judge aloud. A week later she rules that Antoine can see the boy.

Legrand, who won the best director prize at Venice to add to his collection, explored some of the ideas in Custody in his Oscar-nominated 2013 short, Just Before Losing Everything.

Using a short film as the basis, however distant, for a feature works for some filmmakers, with many a hit that seems to come out of nowhere having at one time been someone’s well-nurtured baby. Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-winning Whiplash, for example, started life as a short. Ditto Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. Closer to home, Paddy Considine turned the Bafta-winning short, Dog Altogether, into Tyrannosaur, scooping another Bafta.

It is the exception rather than the rule, though, with most filmmakers finding there is not enough in the original idea. But with the right subject, and director, a small wonder can become a larger triumph, as here.

Having set up his tale, Legrand lets the consequences of the judge’s ruling unfold. Through a look here and a word there, we begin to work out the family dynamics. At first, Miriam and Antoine seem like just any other couple carrying on a war between themselves, with their poor bloody son (played by Thomas Gioria) caught in the middle. Who is right and who is wrong? The audience, like the judge, is being asked to decide.

Legrand’s story could have gone two ways. That he chooses the most obvious route is a brave move that pays off. Despite emotions running high from the off, the truly shocking thing is how ordinary and believable he makes everything seem.

He is helped in this by an outstanding cast, including Drucker operating at a low key, but very effective, peep, with Menochet compelling as the father pleading persecution. At the centre of it all is the wonderful Gioria, whose face full of pain, fear and hope is sometimes heavenly, often hellish, to behold.

After a nerve-jangling 90 minutes, his tale at an end, Legrand returns us to the hubbub. Life goes on, he seems to say, and what you did not take notice of before you can ignore again. Except, having seen his film, it may never again be that simple.

Like Custody, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (15) *** premiered at the Glasgow Film Festival. The Marlina of the title is a widow living on the Indonesian island of Sumba. One day a stranger stops by to tell her she will be raped and robbed that night by seven men. In the meantime he advises her to make dinner. What is a heroine in a revenge western to do? Mouly Surya’s bleakly comic drama has a few longeurs, despite the 93- minute runtime, but its spirit and originality shine through.

Custody: GFT, April 13-26; Filmhouse, Edinburgh, and Eden Court, Inverness, April 27-May 3. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts: GFT and Filmhouse, Edinburgh, April 13-19