As anyone who has gone through adolescence can attest, the teenage years can be some of the toughest of a person’s entire life. School, hormones, and relationships can be a nightmare to navigate, and getting through to the other side without emotional scars is next to impossible.
The Belgian/French film Close deftly details that difficult time through the friendship of Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele). The boys are as tight as best friends can be, biking to school together, sleeping over at each other’s houses, and basically spending every free moment that they can together. They’re so close, in fact, that some kids at their school wonder if they might be in a romantic relationship.
Inquiries about their status don’t bother Rémi, but Léo takes offense to the suggestion. Bit by bit, Léo pulls away from Rémi, joining a hockey team and hanging out with other kids. Rémi is baffled by this seemingly sudden change, constantly asking why Léo is doing what he’s doing. A major event disrupts their friendship for good, leading Léo to question how good a friend he actually is.
Written and directed by Lukas Dhont and co-written by Angelo Tijssens, the film is staggering in its level of emotional complexity. There is no buildup of Léo and Rémi’s friendship; it is presented as strong right from the start, and the filmmakers do a fantastic job at establishing their bond quickly. That makes the cracks that occur between them all the more devastating; you want them to get back to their original form even though we only see them at their happiest for a short while.
Dhont sharply observes the way in which Léo distances himself, which rings too true to life. Instead of one or two big dramatic moments, the change occurs in small drips, making it difficult for Rémi to recognize right away. When he finally sees what is happening, the impact is greater than it might have been otherwise.
Whether or not either of the boys actually is gay is neither here nor there in the context of the film. It’s the mere suggestion and the homophobia expressed by those around them that pulls them apart. It’s a different way of approaching the subject matter in this day and age, one that acknowledges the fluidity of relationships as well as the way in which adolescence can wreak havoc on kids’ feelings.
The two young actors, both making their film debuts, are equally remarkable. Perhaps because of their lack of experience, there is zero pretense to their performances. At the same time, the emotions they display at various points in the film makes their friendship feel real, which makes all the difference in the effectiveness of the story.
Nominated for Best International Feature at the 2023 Academy Awards, Close is a film that will stay with you long after the credits roll. It’s a film that makes you thankful that storytellers like Dhont still exist, even if the story he’s telling is one that is crushing.
Close opens in theaters on February 17.