Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav de Waele) are two happy 13-year-old boys living enjoying an idyllic summer in rural Belgium. Their days are defined by bicycle rides, sleepovers and tearing through the flower fields worked by Léo’s family. Rémi’s parents treat Léo as if he were their own son.
Returning to school after the holidays, three girls in their class wonder aloud if the boys are gay. It’s not a malicious question, but its effects are life altering. Slowly, Léo puts distance between himself and his former best friend. He joins the ice-hockey team, starts hanging out with new friends, and refuses to sleep on the same mattress as an increasingly solitary Rémi.
Detractors have railed against Lukas Dhont’s powerful second feature, arguing that it is emotionally manipulative. This is an odd charge to make against any piece of cinema. Isn’t that usually the point? It hardly matters that one can predict precisely where the Belgian director’s tragedy is headed; Close makes an indelible emotional impact.
The Grand Prix winner from Cannes was carefully crafted around its young cast, particularly the wide-eyed Eden Dambrine, a young dancer in real life. Léa Drucker is another standout from the persuasive ensemble.
Frank van den Eeden’s balmy cinematography adds to the jolting events of Close. An overwhelming sense of loss is amplified by Valentin Hadjadj and a huge final stand-off.
Dhont’s script, written with Angelo Tijssens, has much to say about masculinity, societal expectation and playground rules. The most impactful moments, including an unforgettable tussle over sleeping arrangements, happen away from the gaze of caring adults and are not events that can be easily articulated. Coming of age is seldom so tricky or sorrowful.