The life of a teenager is already fraught with misunderstood emotions and anxiety. In Lukas Dhont’s quietly affecting Close, those simmering feelings are further exposed in the relationship of thirteen year old Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustav De Waele) . Both young actors give tremendous performances, made all the more heartbreaking by the narrative beats of filmmaker Dhont who seems to understand that less is certainly more.
We first meet the pair as inseparable friends in the Belgian countryside. Content to spend their days riding bikes, chasing each other through the fields, and using each other as a body pillow to relax in the warm sun, things drastically change when, one day at school, a fellow student asks if they’re a couple. The simple question elicits sharp reactions from both Leo and Remi. From that slight interaction, Close examines the immovable wedge placed between the boys as they attempt to deal with the dramatic fallout that occurs from their dwindling friendship.
Without saying more as Close is a film rife with spoiler opportunities, it’s a film that hinges on the face of Dambrine- someone spotted by chance on the street by Dhont- and while the film takes a very Dardenne Brothers like approach to its fly on the wall aesthetic, it never loses track of the anchor supplied by Dambrine. While the fragile tragedies mount, Dambrine navigates each scene with an assured quality that puts most young actors to shame. There’s a moment towards the end between Leo and Remi’s mother (Emilie Dequenne) that feels like the sort of melodramatic meeting that sinks so many films exploring heightened sensations. Here, it works brilliantly and sums up the entire ethos of the film, which is life is hard and messy and unexpected. It’s how we move forward that really matters.
Winner of the Grand Prix award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Close is the second film from Dhont after Girl (2018), another effort that explored the tumultuous feelings of a young person. He definitely has found his niche. If Close is the better of his two films to date, Dhont has established himself as a purveyor of adolescent emotions. Avoiding heady manipulation, I look forward to whatever he chooses to do next.
A24’s Close opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday February 17th at the following theaters: AMC Northpark, Dallas Angelika, and Cinemark West Plano. Check local listings for further showtimes.