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Close ★★★★



Directed: Lukas Dhont

Cast: Eden Dambrine, Gustav de Waele, Émilie Dequenne, Léa Drucker

Released: 3rd March 2023 (UK Cinemas)

Lukas Dhont’s schooldays may be behind him, but his childhood experiences bleed into his latest film, Close. The director/writer’s follow-up to his debut feature, Girl, is a sublime piece of cinema, one which is built on these strong, lived-in foundations, which enforce its unwavering portrayal of toxic masculinity and homophobia. Both painfully tragic and upliftingly beautiful, Close is an exalting, unforgettable experience in so many ways. Just like in Laura Wendel’s recent film Playground, the school setting becomes a microcosm for wider society, with the bigoted views hurled upon the two main protagonists of Close painfully mirrored by people around the world.

Co-written by Dhont and Angelo Tijssens, Close takes place in rural Belgium and follows two 13-year-old boys, Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav de Waele). The two boys are best friends, incredibly close both physically and emotionally. They spend their summer helping Léo’s parents and older brother on a flower farm, in between bike rides, naps, and other innocent teenage activities. In these early stages of Close, Dhont and Tijssens impressively craft an exquisite, fully realised relationship; it’s a partnership that is never defined either. It matters little whether Léo or Rémi’s relationship is platonic or romantic, as their happiness and deep bond with one another are the only things that carry real weight, with the dramatic crux of Close’s narrative forming when the two boys return to high school. Classmates question their closeness, asking sardonically if they are together, which ultimately brings forth the crucial turning point in the story.

From here, Close morphs into an intense and intelligent commentary on the broken societal preconceptions of what it means to be a man, and how these ideas are impressed upon – both consciously and subconsciously – children from a young age. Whether learnt directly from parents or witnessed in public, these toxic opinions form easily in young minds, and in turn breed unhappiness and tragedy. Thanks to the ample time spent building Léo and Rémi’s happy, carefree relationship in the early stages of Close, the downturn in their lives is enhanced. To avoid further ostracisation, Léo creates distance between himself and Rémi, beginning new friendships, taking up ice hockey, and pushing his former best friend away, both emotionally and physically.

Dambrine and de Waele give two powerhouse performances of gut-wrenching believability. Their chemistry is sublime, creating the two teenagers’ relationship seamlessly. When Close hits its greatest emotional heights, both young actors imbue a heartbreaking vulnerability and innocence to proceedings, with their characters’ agonies a direct result of society and its preconceived influences. DOP Frank van den Eeden takes great care in framing the two characters, expertly mirroring their undulating feelings against the backdrop of the film’s settings. When the boys wake up from a cosy sleep, their faces flood the screen, intensifying their beautiful intimacy; terrific sound design further improves these moments, as we hear Léo and Rémi’s soft, relaxed breaths, creating an exquisite sensory aura.

Overall, Close is a thoughtful and intricate coming-of-age film. Whether it is the screen bursting with intense red in the story’s most dramatic moments or flowers whizzing across our vision as the boys run laughing through a field, every moment feels soaked in detailed atmosphere. When Close’s screenplay very occasionally descends into a mixture of melodrama and misery, Dhont and Tissjens swiftly save it with forceful naturalism and complex commentaries. For all of its strengths – its visual clarity, the sublime central performances – Close impresses most with its portrayal of these themes and its depiction of a society that breaks children and young teenagers with skewed ideas of how they should act. Despite the great anguish of Close’s events, Dhont’s vision of how societies should exist – with happy and intimate relationships between same-sex people treated with no prejudice – is never forgotten, as it battles doggedly with these darker moments of bigotry.

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