Lukas Dhont | 1hr 45min
It is often the most profound emotions that are left unspoken between best friends Léo and Rémi. The intimate affection of their innocent sleepovers. The disturbing uncertainty of a play fight that evolves into something more vicious. The forlorn guilt painted across Léo’s face when he faces up to the irreparable consequences of his action. At 13 years old, these boys do not yet possess the sort of language to express the deep love they feel for each other, nor the complex turmoil that comes with their exposure to a narrow-minded culture casting judgement on their wholesome bond. Perhaps the most honest line in Close comes towards its end when director Lukas Dhont returns to the delicate overhead shot of Léo in bed, though instead of Rémi laying next to him, we find his older brother, Charlie. The only three words that could possibly break a silence like this come right from Léo’s heart.
“I miss him.”
Close is a work of incredible devotion and mourning for Dhont, whose realist style is well-suited to the thorny subject matter at hand. Handheld cameras trace the subtle expressions of young actors Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele, who essentially play two parts of a single soul during the years of Léo and Rémi’s lively childhood. When Rémi plays his oboe at a concert, Léo watches on with pride in his bright green eyes, and through fields of white flowers they run side by side like soulmates in a pastoral paradise. It is an innocence that could only ever be corrupted by external forces, seeping into their minds and playing on their insecurities. With the start of high school comes an entirely new world where close male friendships are sniggered at and accused of homosexuality, leaving Léo to adamantly deny any romantic feelings, and Rémi to awkwardly sit in silence.
As contrived images of masculinity begin to shape Léo’s impressionable mind, new interests and ambitions begin to take root, offering a path to form his own identity separate from his childhood friend. In some ways, we can hardly blame him for wanting to assert his individuality, though the part that conformity has to play in this is undeniable. Dhont’s direction is notably muted in its visual style, and yet he is not the sort of filmmaker to simply let dialogue guide his dramatic beats, instead opting for eloquently understated reaction shots that connect Léo to each significant figure in his life.
Late in Close, one of those characters is Rémi’s mother, Sophia, within whom Léo quietly recognises a grief strikingly similar to his own. As they watch a concert of chamber music on opposite sides of the room, Dhont places us in the young boy’s eyes, hanging on a wide shot that very slowly zooms in on her sorrowful face. So too does she go looking for him at ice hockey practice not long after, watching from a distance and suspecting that there may be more to his anguish than anyone realises.
The moment of catharsis that eventually manifests between them lines up nicely with Léo having the plaster cut off from the wrist he broke earlier in the film, formally marking the point that he finds both physical and emotional healing. Dhont has all the time in the world for these characters, sitting with them for as long as it takes to fully comprehend those internal struggles only ever revealed through the subtle shifts in a room’s atmosphere. Especially with adulthood looming on the horizon for these young teenagers, that sort of sincere, empathetic patience might be the most valuable gift they can receive.
Close is currently playing in theatres.
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