Close (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): A friendship shattered

I know it is a clichéd expression, but I sincerely advise you not to read the following paragraphs if you want to be fully impacted by Lukas Dhont’s latest film “Close”, which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival early in last year and then was Oscar-nominated for Best International Film in last month. I will surely try not to reveal too much in my review, and I will simply focus on how much I admire the movie tactfully and sensitively builds and develops the story and characters up to a certain narrative point, but I really think you should stop reading my trivial review right now if you are already planning to watch it.

During its first half, the movie mainly revolves around Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele), two 13-year-old boys who have been quite close to each other since they were very young. At first, we see these two young boys spending some good time together, and then we observe more of their strong friendship as they hang around with Rémi’s mother, who apparently regards Léo as another son for her.

While they spend another night together in Rémi’s house, Léo and Rémi come to have a little tender night talk, and we slowly come to gather that Rémi has been quite emotionally attached to Léo. When Léo tells Rémi a little story which can be regarded as a metaphorical reflection of their longtime friendship, Rémi listens to his friend with quiet but intense attention, and Léo does not mind this at all as tenderly looking at his friend.

However, things gradually begin to change as another school year of theirs is started not long after that. On the first day of their new school year, Léo and Rémi enthusiastically go to their school together, and they remain close to each other inside and outside their classroom, but then Léo cannot help but become more conscious of how they look to other students around them. At one point, they are innocently asked about whether they are more than close friends, and Léo insists that he and Rémi are just friends, but then he begins to distance himself from Rémi bit by bit.

This tendency of his becomes more prominent when he later joins the ice hockey team in the school along with several classmates of his. As he and his classmates are demanded to be tougher and stronger for playing ice hockey, Léo feels more uncomfortable with Rémi’s emotional attachment on him, and there eventually comes a point where they come to clash over their growing emotional issue between them.

The movie is rather ambiguous about how much Léo and Rémi’s relationship is actually close to homosexuality, but I guess that is the right choice considering how both of them are not so well aware of how exactly they feel about their increasingly complicated relationship. While it is possible that Rémi simply does not want his best friend to be estranged from him, it is also conceivable that Léo rejects Rémi’s desperate reach just because he does not look, uh, weak to his schoolmates, though, as far as I observe, nobody around him is particularly homophobic.

And then something quite unexpected happens around the middle point of the film. Rather than showing the incident itself, the movie wisely pays more attention to its devastating aftermath, and I especially appreciate how it skillfully handles one crucial scene where Léo and other students slowly come to learn of the incident not long after having a little fun field trip together.

The second half of the film focuses on Léo’s growing guilt and grief involved with the incident. Still reluctant to confide to anyone about how much he was responsible for the incident, he becomes more tormented in addition to being angrier about himself, and this often baffles his parents, who are understandably perplexed but try to understand and comfort him nonetheless.

Of course, there eventually comes a point where Léo tells everything to a certain main character in the story, and that is where the screenplay by Dhont and his co-writer Angelo Tijssens becomes quite contrived for pulling our heartstrings. To be frank with you, the result is rather manipulative in my humble opinion, but it still works because of what has been so carefully developed during the rest of the movie, and I was not so surprised by the emotional responses shown from several audiences around me.

The considerable emotional power of the movie lies in the two remarkable performances from its two young lead actors. Although they do not have any previous movie acting experience before this film, Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele effortlessly convey their characters’ complex emotional bond to us, and they are also supported well by several adult cast members including Léa Drucker and Émilie Dequenne, who is terrific during a couple of key scenes between her and Dambrine later in the story.

In conclusion, “Close” is another interesting queer drama from Dhont after his notable debut feature film “Girl” (2018), which is about the intense emotional struggles of a young female transgender ballet student. Although it is not entirely without flaws as shown from its rather artificial finale, the movie confirms again that Dhont is indeed a major talent to watch, and I will certainly keep watching on his advancing filmmaking career.

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2 Responses to Close (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): A friendship shattered

  1. Uin Lee says:

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  2. Pingback: My Prediction on the 95th Academy Awards | Seongyong's Private Place

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