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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Close ****

Starring: Eden Dambrine, Gustave De Waele, Émilie Dequenne, Léa Drucker

Director: Lukas Dhont

Country: Belgium

Four years ago, young Belgian director Lukas Dhont became the darling of the awards circuit with his debut movie, Girl, which won the Queen Palm at Cannes and received nominations at the Golden Globes and Césars. Now, Dhont has continued his acclaimed run with Close, his tale of childhood tragedy that has won Cannes’ Grand Prix and given the director his first Academy Award nomination.

In the rural Belgian countryside, thirteen year-old boys Léo (Dambrine) and Rémi (De Waele) have been best friends since infancy. They are exceptionally close, spending all their waking time together and sleeping at each other’s houses. On the first day of high school, the pair are placed in the same class, which initially seems like a blessing; except when their affectionate body language is witnessed by others, their classmates ask if they are a couple. Léo is uncomfortable with this scrutiny, pushing Rémi away and causing a string of arguments and fights. As this rejection turns to tragedy, Léo is left bereft by the consequences planted by this seed of suspicion.

A hyper-real film that refrains from using music or any cinematic trickery, it relies instead on the acting of its young leads and Dhont’s skill at capturing organic moments of childhood pain. Eden Dambrine is magnetic as Léo, with his blonde hair glistening in the summer sun, the lens often resting for extended periods on his cherubic face. And with Léo’s family working on a flower farm, the shots of the boys picking the blooms are beautifully composed and drenched in vibrant hues. Aesthetically, this film looks like a perfume ad, with a director confident to play with beautiful and bright colours.

The mothers of the boys are solid in support, with Léa Drucker (Custody, Two Of Us) playing Léo’s tender and sensitive maman. Even better is Émilie Dequenne (Not My Type, Our Children), the mother of Rémi, who gets some of the weightiest scenes in the final act. Gustave De Waele is strong opposite Dambrine, but it is the latter who really dominates the screen.

A product of its hyper-realism, the film’s pace is a little laboured at times, but the sheer emotion behind its peak is enough to carry us through. Dhont is a master at capturing just enough of his actors’ work, showing marked restraint in his final edit. The ending is an emotional climax, which suits the style of the movie, but a narrative climax would probably have served it better.

However, Close is a gorgeous but broken heart of a movie that gives an authentic voice to lived childhood trauma. With a remarkable child star at its centre, this cements Dhont as a real presence in European cinema, giving a cinematic voice to the experience of youth with tremendous artistic skill.

UK Release: Out now in cinemas, released by MUBI. Streaming from 21st April 2023.


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