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Close Review

Close Review

Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustav De Waele) have the kind of intimate friendship it’s depressingly rare to see between teenage boys: they talk about their feelings and their dreams with unembarrassed ease, they aren’t scared of expressing physical affection, and their families are tight too – Remi’s mum (Émilie Dequenne) calls Leo her ‘son of heart’. They’re happy just being in each other’s company.

And then school starts. After Leo rests his head on Remi’s shoulder in class one day, in an act of casual affection, gossip begins to spread. Leo is asked if they’re a couple, and it terrifies him: immediately he starts distancing himself from his best friend, much to Remi’s complete anguish. This act of abandonment leads to a devastating tragedy, and unimaginable guilt for Leo.

Close, the sophomore feature from Belgian director Lukas Dhont, is a film in three acts. The first, which focuses on the friendship between the boys, is lovely. Dhont gets natural, engaging performances out of his young actors, and their rapport is suitably warm and endearing – watching the two together does lead a viewer to reflect on how sad it is that boys having an emotionally intimate relationship seems like such a revelatory thing to see depicted on screen.

The second act is the film’s most gripping, and the most painful. As soon as Leo is asked that question, he leaps into embracing his teen view of masculinity; whereas before he and Remi used to rest together in the sun during breaktimes, he becomes as active as he can – haring round the playground with the bully boys, joining an ice hockey team. Though the story is told from Leo’s perspective, Remi’s agony at losing his soulmate colours everything. Close is full of moving scenes, but none is more agonising than the fight between the former friends on the playground, aching with betrayal, guilt and despair.

Then the final act, which is the longest… or it feels like it, anyway. The big event that the film hinges on happens around the midpoint, and everything that follows makes it seem like the movie has just completely run out of steam; an endless string of teary conversations that retread the same ground over and over. The tension that had been building throughout the second act sputters out. Close had been interesting up until that point for its exploration of the intimacy between Leo and Remi and the way homophobia destroys that beautiful relationship. Yet after the incident, that whole theme is discarded with jarring speed. The rest of the duration plays out as a dreary grief drama of the sort we’ve seen a thousand times before – though the acting remains convincing, the narrative becomes leaden and dull to watch. We know where it’s going, and it takes an age getting there.

Whilst it’s frustrating to see a filmmaker loses the thread of their movie so completely, the first two acts of Close are engrossing enough that it’s still worth checking out – just know that if you stop watching after it happens, you won’t be missing anything.


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