Miriam and Antoine Besson have divorced, and Miriam is seeking sole custody of their son Julien to protect him from a father she claims is violent. In a detailed, deceptively innocuous opening courtroom scene that belies the ratcheting tension that is yet to come, Antoine pleads his case as a scorned dad and the appointed judge rules in favor of joint custody.

Feeling increasingly like a hostage to the escalating conflict between his parents, young Julien begins constructing a shrewd he-said/she-said puzzle box for his father and mother to decipher, though it’s unclear how much of the subterfuge is pre-conceived and how much is invented on the spot out of necessity. It’s an elegantly simple scenario built around an ever more commonplace moment in a family’s life cycle, and the longer we watch Julien push the buttons of his harried parents with half-truths, the more we are left to question whether he’s acting out in morbid, adolescent curiosity or is simply trying to prevent the worst from happening to the people he loves. Xavier Legrand’s gripping debut feature, which earned him a coveted Silver Lion award for Best Director at the 2017 Venice Film Festival where it premiered, will keep audiences guessing and leave them with their hearts in their throats.

–Christopher Holmes