Four years after he debuted in style with the controversial ‘Girl’, Belgian Lukas Dhont manages to fully establish himself with his second feature film, ‘Close’. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival -ex aequo with ‘Stars at Noon’ by Claire Denis-; as well as the Grand Jury Prize and Best Actor Award at the 19th Seville Festival; five nominations for the European Film Awards and chosen by Belgium to represent the country in the category of best international film at the 95th Oscar Awards.
With all these references, it is impossible not to generate expectation about a still young filmmaker, only 31 years old, who seems to have searched in ‘Close’ a story more linked to his own personal references than his controversial debut. In this sense, Dhont, who once again has Angelo Tijssens writing the script, chooses to dare to show one of the cruelest sides of childhood and how social and collective pressure within That own cosmos that is the school can become a real hell for those boys who have a different type of masculinity than the conventional one.
Really, that’s the main focus, with which Dhont plants a seed whose ramifications make ‘Close’ a more subtle and complex exercise than ‘Girl’. In this case, it is about how something as pure as innocence and friendship are shattered by an apparently harmless question, but which carries a terrible load of prejudices about what boys should be: “Are you boyfriends?”. A question that a classmate rebukes the two protagonists, Léo and Rémi. Both are lifelong friends, whose personal bond exceeds the concept of friendship and which is difficult to qualify -especially, because Dhont plays with the ambiguity of the relationship-.
It is here where, with slight movements, Dhont outlines a story in which he recalls that famous comment about how there are children who are bullied in class for having a different sensibility, which catalogs them in a way that they themselves are not yet aware of. The filmmaker does it in a tremendously subtle way, but at the same time direct, with Léo and Rémi sharing a bed at bedtime, with their respective mothers commenting that they feel the other is just another child, with scenes full of intimacy. It is an affectionate gesture in class or in the schoolyard that triggers comments from the rest of their classmates and, of course, the start of bullying.
Dhont portrays magnificently (but also heartbreakingly) how one of the protagonists gives in to social pressure, irreparably damaging that special friendship (Which, needless to say, is difficult to classify as an incipient love or a deep feeling of brotherhood, leaving the public free to interpret and thus allowing its protagonists to express themselves emotionally without the need for prejudice). It is there where Dhont puts his eye, with a subtlety when it comes to capturing the change of mind of the young Léo that causes the sensation of being present in front of a documentary.
The ruthless look at that masculinity that goes out of the conventional
The friction and consequent enmity, Dhont configures it as if it were a Greek tragedy. The filmmaker is right when it comes to creating the sensation of ellipses and of linking the evolution of history to the seasons of the year. Precisely this opens the door to the interpretation of what Rémi, the other protagonist, is experiencing alone, sees disconcerted how his lifelong best friend stops sharing a bed when it comes to sleeping together or how he shies away from any affectionate gesture; while he witnesses how Léo chooses to silence his own sensitivity and embrace the brutality and violence that, supposedly, he must have based on his sex.
All this causes a deep question in the public, especially when seeing how this toxic masculinity is educated from an early age and how it can destroy the most candid of sensitivities. In this sense, Dhont once again flaunts a cinematographic style close to social cinema, but approaching it from a personal perspective (in a certain way there is a style similar to that of the Dardenne, but without affecting so much the social aspect). Unlike ‘Girl’, ‘Close’ is closer to that magnificent film titled ‘A Small World’, Laura Wandel’s debut filmDhont’s compatriot.
Although Dhont has an exceptional ability to narrate based on small gestures, head movements, glances or facial expressions; this would not have been possible without the protagonists of him. Eden Dambrine perfectly shows that broken innocence and how little Léo opts for a flight forward that turns against him and turns into a terrible feeling of guilt. The young performer shows extraordinary acting maturity, a true prodigy, one of those who captivates from the first moment, as has recently happened with Carla Quílez in ‘La maternal’ or Joely Mbundu in ‘Tori y Lokita’. Next to him, a correct Gustav de Waele as Rémi, who knows how to show that bewilderment that turns into anger and sadness. Both are accompanied by Émilie Dequenne and Léa Drucker. The actress of ‘Rosetta’ stands out especially, who represents the look of mourning very well.
‘Close’ captivates by Dhont’s ability to create the sensation of witnessing a tremendously intimate and personal story, which fascinates but also terrifies. A cinematographic jewel that shows that the filmmaker has a unique perspective when it comes to capturing emotions (it remains to be seen if he maintains it for his next works, since the director’s intentions for his next projects are less local and more international). Definitely, one of the essential feature films of this 2022 that is dangerously approaching its end.
The best: The sensitivity that Dhont captures when filming his protagonists.
Worst: Its second part can be misinterpreted.