Close by Lukas Dhont (Girl) is a heartbreaking film of two boys’ friendship.
Innocence and Experienceby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Thirteen-year-olds Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele) are inseparable best friends with a wonderfully expressive and joyous bond. They play together through an idyllic sunny summer in rural Belgium, gambol through the flower fields where Léo’s parents and older brother work, and have sleepovers at each other’s houses, sharing their imagination and skills. They are like brothers, equally at home in both families.
But their first year in middle school brings whispers from their new peers. Two girls clumsily accuse them of being so close that they must be a couple. This sudden loss of innocence in their relationship embarrasses and confuses them, and their denials lead to a disruption in their friendship. They start to sit separately in the classroom and ride their bicycles singly.
Thinking to dispel any homophobic implications about his relationship with Rémi, Léo cultivates new macho school friends. He joins the school’s ice hockey team, though he doesn’t seem to truly enjoy the violent matches. Sensitive oboe-player Rémi cannot comprehend why Léo has started to shun his company both in and out of school and he retreats unhappily into himself. Both boys are too young as yet to understand and cope with the new emotions they have been catapulted into.
SPOILER ALERT IN THIS PARAGRAPH. Halfway though the film, everything changes. A tragedy occurs while Léo is on a school trip that Rémi is absent from. There’s a crucial emotional scene on the coach with Léo and his mother (Léa Drucker). The rest of the film deals with the repercussions for Léo and Rémi’s families. Rémi’s suicide is another thing that’s too serious for Léo to cope with. He insists to counsellors that he is fine, but over time he at last begins reaching out for help for the overwhelming guilt and grief he feels to Rémi’s patient, caring mother Sophie (Émilie Dequenne).
In Close, the boys’ relationship, or what it might have become in future, is deliberately never made explicit.
Close becomes a terribly sad film – you cannot help but intuit that its joyous beginning must have the seeds of its own destruction. Dhont’s attachment of heavy symbolism to images reinforces the tragedy – who would have thought that scenes of a harvester reaping a multi-coloured flower meadow in sunshine could induce tears? Performances, notably that of young Eden Dambrine (talent spotted by Dhont on a train journey), who is present in almost every demanding scene, are all heartbreaking – but ultimately in a positive way.
Close premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 3 March 2023 in the UK and on Mubi. Dhont’s previous film Girl, which received numerous awards, is also available on Mubi from 3 March 2023.