The Power of Platonic Intimacy in Close

Director Lukas Dhont explores tender moments of boyhood in his new drama

Gustav De Waele and Eden Dambrine in Close (Courtesy of A24)

A kind word. A hug. Compassion. All expressions of affection that are seemingly unforgivable for teenage boys, or deliberately misinterpreted. "We seem to underestimate the power and the importance of intimacy between men," said Lukas Dhont, director of Close.

Short-listed at the Oscars as Belgium's entry for Best International Feature and released this week, Close centers on the rift that appears between two best friends, Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele). Their bond, built on sleepovers and roughhousing, shreds when they arrive at high school and are told that boys just shouldn't act like that. The result is a devastating change in their lives, which Dhont (who co-wrote the script with Angelo Tijssens) sees as being rooted in the loss of that kind of platonic intimacy. "When you listen to 13-year-old boys talk about their male friends, it's testimonies of love. But we live in this dominance-based masculine culture that actually tells them that a desire for connection is seen as a weakness."

While not autobiographical, Close draws on his own childhood experiences of reaching that age when young boys start to pull away from "or be more performative in my male friendships, because I felt society felt uncomfortable with that warmth."

The story takes place at what Dhont called "the fragile age" between childhood and puberty, and so he drew on the instincts and emotional truths of the two young actors – after all, who knows better what it is to be a 13-year-old boy than a 13-year-old boy? He explained that they brought "this radical pureness that makes you closely connected to something you had lost. So we talked very openly about loss, about bruising, and about friendship, [and] they said some incredibly intelligent things that really shaped the story." That reshaping included a pivotal scene when Léo tells Rémi a bedtime story. The script had "a very show-off metaphorical story about a boy falling into a black hole," but Dambrine told Dhont this wasn't realistic. "He told us, 'I would never say anything like that,' and I went, 'Great, because that means you are comfortable enough to tell us that.'"

Dhont noted that there is a lack of films tackling such male relationships, without them either being sexualized or the butt of jokes. "We have been focusing the camera a lot on the battlefields – and I mean that in a poetic way – and not so much on clinging on to each other." Or, at least there was a lack of such films when he started the writing process. He was reminded of how when Julia Ducournau took her debut feature, Raw, to Cannes in 2016 "she thought she was going to have the only film about cannibalism – and really, why could she not – but when she arrived, there were five. And really I feel the same way, because when we arrived in Cannes we had, all of a sudden, plural pieces in which there seems to be this examination of friendship in the masculine universe."

Yet while Close centers on young men, Dhont stressed there is a broader message about how every group in society "is divided into boxes with expectations – on boys, on girls, queer or not queer. You realize that, yes, we have been conditioned to look like that."

Close is playing at Alamo South Lamar. Read our review.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More A24
Faith and Fatness in <i>The Whale</i>
Faith and Fatness in The Whale
Darren Aronofsky and writer Samuel D. Hunter redefine the religious movie

Richard Whittaker, Dec. 23, 2022

SeX and Violence: Ti West Returns to Cinema with <i>X</i>
SeX and Violence: Ti West Returns to Cinema with X
The director explains why he's been away, and what TV taught him

Richard Whittaker, March 11, 2022

More by Richard Whittaker
End of an Era: Funko Lays Off Mondo's Leadership
End of an Era: Funko Lays Off Mondo's Leadership
UPDATED: Toys and records unaffected as prints team gutted

March 24, 2023

SXSW Film Review: <i>Monolith</i>
Film Review: Monolith
Australian audio-horror builds tone through sound

March 24, 2023


Close, Lukas Dhont, A24, Eden Dambrine, Angelo Tijssens, Gustav De Waele

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle