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Released 2022. Director: Lukas Dhont

NOMINATED FOR THE BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE AT THE 95th Oscars held earlier this year, Belgium film Close is a coming-of-age story suffused with the joy of a devoted friendship and the sadness and regret in separation.

Leo and Remi are best buddies. The pair of 13-year-old boys are inseparable and the early parts of the movie dedicate a considerable amount of time establishing that, with scene after scene of the boys in each other’s company, running in the fields, riding their bicycles to school. laughing, mucking around, happy and carefree.

On the threshold of a different kind of awakening, Leo and Remi's friendship goes beyond ordinary fondness and attachment. It’s a new feeling unacknowledged.

Starting high school, Leo and Remi together attract the attention of the other students who ask if the boys are “a couple”. Leo is perturbed and sensitive to the name-calling around him. Social pressure, especially at high school, is often unreasonable and pushes people to conform despite their own reluctance. To make himself fit in with the rest and be seen as one of the boys, Leo drifts towards the others and starts to push Remi away, sometimes deliberately and harshly. Beginning in small gestures, the rejection builds until the two are irrevocably separated.

I’m being vague on purpose about what occurs next because it’s more meaningful when you experience the powerful moment for yourself if you get a chance to see this movie, which I highly recommend.

The second half of Close concentrates on Leo – his shock, denial and inability to comprehend and process his feelings. In the months after, Leo busies himself with endless activities, probably as a way to avoid facing up to reality. He grinds away at his ice hockey practices and works assiduously in his family’s flower farm, throwing himself into physical labour to keep moving. He has closed up emotionally. Inside, Leo is drowning and he’s fighting against himself. When he sobs after fracturing his arm on the hockey rink it isn’t because of a broken bone.

Even though Leo’s parents and older brother are incredibly understanding and give the boy space and time, the fact that he’s unable to talk about any of it with anyone means he has to endure the loss by himself. Director Lukas Dhont adroitly avoids melodrama and has a light touch when it comes to depicting a young person carrying the weight of an enormous burden all alone.

What Leo needs is to connect with someone in a similar situation but it isn’t until months later that he reaches out to Remi’s mother Sophie. He’s not asking for forgiveness but owning up to his part in what happened to Remi. The heartrending moment when grief and anger swell before closure is possible is directed with simple elegance and economical with words, poignant and restrained.

Close is rich in emotional truths and gives credence to adolescent perspectives. The movie illustrates vividly a crucial part of growing up when boys like Leo and Remi will realise in their own time who they are, and how challenging it could be for those who are caught having the question directed bluntly at them before they know the answer themselves. Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele are remarkable in the lead roles, bringing depth to their performances though only acting for the first time. Their story will stay with you for days after.

Click image above to view trailer. New window will open.


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