Lukas Dhont examines the unraveling fabric of childhood friendship throughout a culture of homophobia.
Puberty is an impasse. The road ends for a youthful innocence as quandaries of a new life begin to take over. The care-free nature of one’s life immediately comes under examination for deeper meaning – the idea of purely existing dismantles in favor of scrutiny of choices, behavior and emotion. Close takes the relationship between two childhood best friends, Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele) and runs this through the societal compactor. As lifelong companions, highschool becomes a place where their platonic intimacy is soon interpreted to be much more romantic by classmates. This leads to an onslaught of homophobic gestures from school mates eventually driving a wedge between the boys’ kinship as they soon drift apart.
Seeing this bond slowly disintegrate is even more heartbreaking due to director Lukas Dhont’s distinct narrative encapsulation of their relationship prior to high school. Leo and Remi’s connection is perfectly depicted through a series of loose and timeless vignettes of their playfulness at work – running in the fields, drawing one another, playing imaginary games for example. But equally important, the film highlights the pairs’ once mutual tenderness for one another as they sleep with one another and mingle effortlessly with the other’s parents – like they are their own – as if they were brothers of sorts. The lush camera work and vibrant colors throughout these sequences captures a feeling of an on-screen nostalgia. Each sequence feels like the prying of a lost memory – like a series of flashbacks played out before us ‘When times were good and life was simple’.
Close excels in subtlety, instead of exposition channeling the parting of the two characters, the brutal silence and long stares of two leads instead connotes a contemplation in their minds. The burden of the world’s expectation takes a hold as they spend more and more time apart transgressing into an almost emotional ruin for their relationship. Their shared moments become less frequent as they build new pathways in life without the others’ involvement.
As the film passes into its second act, the characters are thrown into the fallout of an unexpected tragedy which very brutally shifts the trajectory of both the film’s narrative and thematic meaning. Without spoiling of course the event in question, ideas of retrospection come into play which makes the systematic power of social ideals ever so prominent and consequential. It is from this point in the film and beyond does the most dramatic and upsetting sequences take place. Alongside, the acting chops of the cast are put into full throttle with Emilie Dequenne being a notable highlight. In an ideal world, she would win the Oscar for best supporting actress but I guess an International Feature nod will have to do.
By no means is Close a joyful film yet its detailed introspection on childhood and one’s starting grasp of the concepts of societal expectation and prejudice leaves the film feeling like an emotional powerhouse. At no point does the film ever feel too depressing for depression-sake but rather sincere through the messages it is conveying about our flawed world as a whole and its punishment of affection. Easily one of the best titles this awards season.