Movie review: ‘Close’ is a beautiful and gripping teardrop

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Director: Lucas Dhont

Writers: Lukas Dhont and Angelo Tjissens

Stars: Eden Dambrine, Gustav de Waele

Synopsis: The intense friendship between two thirteen-year-old boys, Leo and Remi, is suddenly cut short. Struggling to understand what happened, Léo approaches Sophie, Rémi’s mother. “Close” is a film about friendship and responsibility

Thanks to its humanist portrait and the delightful performances of its actors (notably Eden Dambrine and Émilie Dequenne), the second feature film by Lukas Dhont, closeis one of the most moving films of the year – a beautiful and gripping portrait of the dealing with grief at a young age and the toxic masculinity of today’s society.

Friendship is a complicated thing to understand and comprehend, often linked to loss. It’s one of those things that we’re never going to fully master. As you age, you gain in maturity vis-à-vis your loved ones. Yet there are times when this bond breaks. It can be resolved with a conversation – the bandage to cover an injured heart – or it can be broken completely. We saw it earlier this year in Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin . The Anglo-Irish filmmaker explored the melancholy of a relationship between two lifelong friends and intertwined it with the Irish Civil War – brother against brother, friend against friend. The confrontations off the fictional island are juxtaposed with the deterioration of their bond, the loneliness eating away at them alive inside as they navigate existential significance. However, it’s not the only film to be released this year that explores how quickly ties can break and the consequences that follow.

The other film that dissects similar themes is the latest from Grand Prix winner Lukas Dhont close, but there is a twist. While McDonagh focuses on middle-aged men, Dhont’s focus is on childhood innocence. When you’re young, those relationships can be broken more quickly and hurt more deeply because you don’t know much about the world – mental states, how your words and actions affect the people next to you. Along with the pantheon of films released about leaving childhood behind (coming of age through various methods) comes close, an emotional punch of a film that plays with your heart every moment without feeling manipulative. Its title refers to the complicity between two thirteen-year-old boys, Léo (Emilie Dequenne) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele). They are best friends – a connection that can only be seen in childhood. It opens with the two playing a simulation game, where they hold off incoming enemies.

One of the first images you see is of the two walking through a field of beautiful flowers, blooming as they frolic through the fields of innocence. A beautiful sight to behold; it immediately reminds the viewer of similar days when nothing mattered and there were no worries. All you looked forward to was being with your best friend all day and playing. The nostalgia caused by those first moments is fully effective, but it doesn’t prepare you for the rest of the story. This happiness will not last forever; It’s too good to be true. And knowing today’s growing pains, we all know what can happen throughout Close’Running s will break our hearts. School starts, and the little ones start their day racing bikes to get there. Because Leo and Remi are so close and affectionate with each other, they come up against an adversary as their classmates question their relationship. They tease them as if they were a couple.

Not knowing how to respond to such teasing, Léo gradually distances himself from Rémi and the rumors surrounding their complicity. What Dhont does that could have broken the movie early on isn’t demonizing classmates. Aside from the initial teasing with homophobic bangs, there are no bullies in the film. However, the Belgian filmmaker shows how these implications put pressure on the two best friends, ultimately causing a rift in their lifelong attachment. Over time, they see each other less and less, to the point of no longer communicating or looking at each other. And, when you least expect it, tragedy initiates the second act – a humanistic and heartbreaking moment that is sure to bring tears to many. What began as a film about two people who couldn’t be separated from each other, no matter what, ends up as a reflection of grief and societal norms of conformity imposed on young people.

close may contain expected narrative beats, but what’s great about Lukas Dhont’s second feature is how effective and humanistic his approach to the story is. The grieving process is handled in an unpredictable way, replacing the usual screaming matches and crying scenes with quiet scenes that make you reflect on the pain that consumes Leo living inside and his reluctance to go through the stages of the loss. That’s why it’s far more effective than most stories dealing with these topics. The tranquility of not dealing with grief properly fills his heart with tears of grief, which may cause him to implode sooner rather than later. In a way, it reminded me of the song “Introducing Angels”, from Destroyer’s underrated record, “Trouble in Dreams”. Singer Dan Bejar often repeats in the song “Common scars brought us together”, followed by “Under the light of the moon, it’s not too soon / The flower girls stalk the groom”. These lines refer to the unifying power of tragedy, which is a key factor in the last two scenes of close.

Along with the long-lasting grieving process, Dhont explores how toxic masculinity is plastered into the lives of these young children, with Leo ultimately using ice hockey to forget the pain. However, his constant falls and failures are part of him, knowing that he does it just to fit in rather than take advantage. Everything becomes a blur, but Leo doesn’t want to admit it, holds his head high and ignores his feelings to conceive with the idea that “boys don’t cry”. His classmates project their own insecurities, fears and suspicions onto the intimate relationship between Léo and Rémi. Dhont paints a portrait of today’s society to open the viewer’s eyes to youth. Seeing the recent anti-LGBTQ+ laws that have surfaced in different countries gives this film more impact, significance, and multiple layers of melancholy filled with dread and desolation. By the time close is coming to an end, you have cried more than a dozen times; your heart is filled with sadness because of the reminiscence of past relationships and the vivid depictions of the world we live in today.

Lukas Dhont is becoming a force to be reckoned with, as with every feature he develops – his work feels more mature and personal the longer it continues to perform. His filmography may be just beginning to shape itself, but Dhont’s cinema is powerful and emotionally moving, more so than most filmmakers working today.

Rating: A

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