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Close is a coming-of-age fable of a breaking friendship. Amongst the gorgeous backdrop of flower fields and a European summer, 13-year-olds Léo and Rémi are played by the outstanding newcomers Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele. The movie has been dubbed a critique of toxic masculinity and praised for a delicate direction and restrained story, it’s Oscar nomination was assured.
Beginning in halcyon days with Léo and Rémi are platonic soulmates. Writing this, it feels an understatement. The pair share a bed after dreamlike scenes of running through fields of flowers and messily playing musical instruments. The cinematography is soft and sensitive, reminiscent of the natural European beauty within Guadagnino’s Call Me By your Name. Their friendship is elevated into something more than a romance film- it’s more intimate than that. There is total acceptance of an innocent friendship between the boys; their sleepovers and antics are seen and welcomed by parents in scenes of rough-housing and dinnertime antics with mums and dads. Its sweetness is intoxicating. There exists within this film a beautiful emblem of young friendship. But seasons change and the beginning of secondary school begins like the harvesting of the flower fields, bringing with it the rest of the world.
Lukas Dhent helms this film as another analysis of the blue, pink and purple threads that connect us to each other and how they could be informed by our gender. His debut feature film Girl, itself an untangling of a transgender girl’s experience, explores these themes. Here he positions the lens on intimacy between boys. This is not an interrogation of sexuality, it’s much simpler. It’s a criticism of how closeness between boys is deemed inappropriate by society. Léo has a difficulty fitting his friendship with Rémi into the real world. Dhent contrasts the rejection of this closeness with Léo’s attentive and caring brother played by Igor Van Dessel. Familial love shows a similar closeness that is somehow acceptable in scenes that also involve running in flower fields and sharing a bed. Dhent asks the audience why this male intimacy is acceptable but the friendship with Rémi remains an aberration. Because of this, there could only be tragic consequences.
There is no dramatic incident that causes the slow unravelling of the relationship. There are comments and questions from classmates of why they appear so close.
“Are you together?” a girl asks, prompting a fiery defiance from Léo. He dons the bulky armour of an ice hockey player, physically changing himself. He adopts the behaviours of his more masculine classmates in replacement of Rémi who remains vulnerable until the strain of the relationship becomes too much.
There is almost an hour of emotionally draining aftermath in this film. Admittedly, the dramatic plot twist undermines the subtle devastation that occurred before it. After being praised for his restraint, the writing choice felt like it was baiting the audience to cry and stands alone as a misfire in an otherwise precise film. However, this can be forgiven as it gives a chance for Rémi’s mother, captured in Émilie Dequenne, to give an arresting performance that is sure to stay with the audience.
Close deserves the praise it’s gotten. It’s a brave, engrossing and endearing film that is sure to stay with you. If Eden Dambrine’s performance as Léo is only a taste of his future, he will be one to watch. Until then, you can watch Close in select theatres. It makes its online debut on MUBI on April 21st.
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