Where does the line get crossed when writing an inherently sad story? Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont’s latest film Close is a devastatingly heavy watch, a delicately filmed tragedy that takes hold of your emotions and never lets go for the duration of its run time. It feels like a slow descent into depression, with grief laced throughout like a rising tide rather than a tsunami of sorrow.
Close is about Léo (Dambrine) and his best friend, Rémi (De Waele), two 13-year-old adolescents who are inseparable, attached at the hip, constantly intertwined with each other and blissfully happy. Their bubble is burst when school starts, and a few classmates start questioning whether their relationship is purely friendly or if there is something more between them. Close doesn’t make use of overt bullying tactics that have been worn out over time, and Dhont finds subtlety in Léo’s spiraling and internalized homophobia. Questioning his own friendship, he begins to push Rémi away at a time where he needs a friend most.
Léo’s reaction to losing Rémi is complicated and messy, and Dhont utilizes a lot of restraint when it comes to exposition and chooses to convey Léo’s feelings through actions and not dialogue. It’s impressive and moving, and Dambrine’s performance is astonishing for someone of his age. Dambrine is perfectly cast: With his baby-blond hair and big blue eye, his features are bathed in innocence, so when his face twists up in guilt, it says more than any words could. He’s the soul of the film, the core that makes the film as powerful as it is.
Close is heartbreaking, but not necessarily in a punishing way, although it does toe the line from time to time. It’s a tearjerker by definition, a term that is often synonymous with manipulation, but not all manipulative stories are fundamentally bad. When the sorrow comes from a place of kindness, it often feels good to let go and cry to a story that touches your heart. Close is weepy, but it’s not unrelentingly so, which is to its benefit.
However, it’s hard to know what Close is really saying in the end. Dhont’s filmmaking doesn’t ever confirm or deny whether Léo and Rémi were queer in any way, and chooses to focus on how masculine culture dictates how boys should act around each other, and the consequences it has on the mental health of young children. The film doesn’t need to explicitly comment on their sexuality, and while leaving it open-ended does feel a bit incomplete, it doesn’t necessarily take away from the film’s beautiful exploration of Léo’s feelings for Rémi.
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