03 Mar 23
The relationships you make, break and nurture as a teenager can come to define the course of your life. Friendships, romances, family ties come at a time when your own body and mind is changing so much that everything feels impossibly precarious.
Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont captures this uncertainty truthfully, sensitively and with great poetry in Close.
After his sensitive debut, Girl, which framed a 15-year-old transgender girl aspiring to be a ballerina, Dhont returns to themes of youth and identity struggle for his sophomore effort.
Here he expands his reach to offer a visually stunning, heartbreaking ode to friendship nestled in rural Belgium's fields of chrysanthemums and poppies, with two young boys whose worlds are thrown into disarray.
Dhont is something of a wunderkind, having won the Grand Prix award at last year's Cannes Film Festival for Close, and now being shortlisted for Best International Feature Film at the 2023 Academy Awards.
Much of the strength of this film, though, comes from the director's perfect casting decisions for his two young leads.
Gustav De Waele and Eden Dambrine play best friends Rémi and Léo respectively, two 13-year-olds who are inseparable until external pressures and internal changes threaten everything they've ever known.
We follow the boys as they are about to start their first year at a new school, playing in the neighbouring flower fields and innocently plotting out their futures, until their world turns upside down.
The love and loyalty they had for one another once seemingly steered them on the same path, until classmates, family members and their own insecurities provoke pain and loneliness like they've never felt before.
Dambrine in particular holds captivating innocence in his eyes, and somehow commands the screen with wisdom beyond his years. It can be difficult with child actors to find vulnerability and conviction at once but here it seems effortless.
It takes an empathetic filmmaker to go for such huge emotional swings, but Dhont does not miss.
He focuses on the family members who support us, and the slow realisations that change everything, to craft an intimate coming-of-age story with enormous resonance for anyone who has experienced love and loss – at any age.
A deeply moving experience, Close leaves a mark not just through its performances but through the elegant cinematography from cinematographer Frank van den Eeden, who gives as much care to the warmth of skin tones and childhood bedrooms as he does to the sun-kissed rural landscapes (and what a treat to fully discover the beauty of Belgium with such specificity), giving them both a home and a purpose.
Add to that Valentin Hadjadj's sweeping, evocative orchestral score and it's hard to keep a dry eye.
This graceful film is clear-eyed about the unfair subjectivity of youth, the way that by the time you fully understand something it might be too late to take care of it.
Dhont and his actors deftly handle anger, candour, ambition, love, sadness, fun and grief with a light touch that in other hands could veer into dangerously manipulative territory, but there's nothing to fear here.
There's just a majestic ode to the most fragile and special moments of life and an urgent desire to hold onto it with everything we have. This is one to watch with those you love the most – and endless tissues. Ella Kemp
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