Close, Lukas Dhont’s follow-up feature film to his 2018 Cannes Film Festival award-winning directorial debut Girl, is a simultaneously sweet and tragic look into the intimate friendships between teenage boys and how very fragile these creatures can be at this vulnerable age.
Inspired by psychologist Niobe Way’s book, Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection, Close follows the somewhat ordinary life of teen boys Léo and Rémi who have grown up together in the Belgian countryside.
When Léo isn’t helping his parents with their flower farm he is with his best friend Rémi. The two have become inseparable; they play together, eat together, bike to school together, and even sleep in the same bed during their frequent sleepovers.
At first, all of this seems to be the actions of a typical adolescent kinship, but as the film progresses it becomes clear that more is going on here, at least for one of the boys, Rémi, played by budding young actor Gustav De Waele.
Rémi is an artist, he plays oboe in the local orchestra and loves to sketch, as seen by his drawings that hang on the walls of his bedroom. His partner in crime, Léo (Eden Dambrine) has interests that involve more physical activities such as soccer and hockey, constantly discussing Portuguese football stars like Cristiano Ronaldo with his other male classmates. He carries an air of unbothered confidence.
Rémi, on the other hand, is talented but insecure, a trait especially well-depicted by Lukas Dhont in one scene in which the two lie in bed and converse about Rémi’s upcoming solo performance.
Rémi is noticeably nervous and insecure. Léo reassures him by telling him a tender story about a little bird who has just hatched. The chick looks like every other chick but this one is definitely special and will go on and do great things.
It’s following this scene that the tension starts to build. Léo and Rémi sit in the cafeteria one afternoon at school when a young female classmate starts to heckle the two about their closeness. She puts Léo on the spot by asking whether or not they are “together,” while other students sitting at the table listen in.
Léo immediately sets the record straight explaining that they are simply best friends. When the tenacious girl won’t relent, Léo becomes defensive while his best friend quietly observes. As the movie progresses, there is more chiding by the students — reaching the level of bullying at times — which acts as a catalyst for Léo’s eventual and gradual distancing.
During that time, he cultivates closer relationships with some of the more athletic kids who share his interests; one student even talks him into joining his hockey team. When Rémi decides to visit the rink one day and watch his friend practice, Léo goes as far as to ask why he came. This does not discourage Rémi and the devoted young boy remains persistent, but to no avail.
The drama all comes to a head one day on the playground when Rémi heatedly confronts Léo about his increased alienation. The discussion soon turns into a full-on schoolyard tussle as the two must be separated by a teacher and Léo’s older brother Charlie (Igor Van Dessel).
The look of the film is reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s work, bringing Jane Campion’s 2021 award-winner Power Of The Dog to mind. There are no fades between scenes, the film abruptly jumping from one to the next, but otherwise the film is smooth and polished with sincere performances and brilliant imagery.
The dialogue is sparse and rudimentary, not a knock by any means, but a compliment on a very refreshing, simplistic style of storytelling. Dhont allows the actors’ expressions to tell most of the story — one that hits close to home.
Closer is not only about the importance of inclusivity and acceptance, but more importantly teaches us that the teen years are the ones where we are most vulnerable and those that have the most potential to affect us for the rest of our lives. That’s why they call it a coming-of-age story.
The harsh words we say to each other, the ridicule we subject each other to, no matter how small, can change a person from who they are meant to be into something they are not, all in the hopes of never being ridiculed again. In a sense, hiding the person they really are and stifling their full potential.
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