Custody of the Child (1909)
Alternate Title: “La Possession de l’enfant
This is another of Louis Feuillade’s early works for Gaumont studios in France. Although this is largely similar to Progressive Era morality dramas being made in the United States, there are some interesting differences. First of all, the very act of basing a film on the premise of divorce is unusual for American pictures anytime before “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), or at least “The Parent Trap” (1961). It’s also interesting that the it is the father who is awarded custody, making the conflict of the film the natural love between a mother and child, and the harm done by divorce to this institution. The child, although well-taken-care-of, quickly becomes melancholy, and the father takes him to his maternal grandmother. She, of course, immediately turns him over to the mother, who absconds and then tries to raise the child in poverty. The father goes to the police, and we seem to be set up for a tragic of ending, but the child brings his parents together. Modern audiences may be confused by the long hair and petticoats of the male child, but this would have been typical in Europe at the time. Again, Feuillade makes good use of Paris exteriors intercut with generic, cramped stage-like sets for the play.
Director: Louis Feuillade
Starring: Renée Carl, Christiane Mandelys, Maurice Vinot
Run Time: 11 Min, 34 secs
You can watch it for free: here.