“Close,” a devastating film about young queerness, has Cannes audiences roaring

CloseLukas Dhont’s new film after its immensely promising but somewhat awkward (and controversial) debut, girl, sees the Belgian director reaching a new level in his filmmaking, demonstrating his impeccable directing of the actors, his exceptional ear for naturalistic dialogue that seems to be caught on the fly, and above all, a deep emotional acuity. Readers should note that this reviewer saw and heard most of this film through a haze of helpless tears and over the sound of his own agonizing sobs.

It has become fashionable to say that what is special makes stories universal; that everyone can identify with everything. That may be true to a certain extent, but Close will speak most effectively to anyone who has had to hold onto a truth about themselves; The pain of the unspoken and seemingly unspeakable of the two young schoolboys at the heart of this film is devastating to anyone who has had personal experience of it. In other words, Dhont has made a film that looks at queerness from a radically new angle, though sparsely alluding to it, one that’s completely innocent and non-sexualized.

As the film opens, we witness a heartbreakingly tender relationship between two boys, aged eleven or twelve—a relationship that seems to go beyond mere friendship and into the realm of brotherhood or symbiosis. These children, whom Dhont caught walking about in the exquisite dappled light of late summer, all tiny, wriggling limbs, matted hair and high-pitched voices, are touchingly unaffected with one another in their charming slur and precocious phrasing; in their physical intimacy; in looks that seem almost flirtatious because they are constantly seeking and receiving an answer. We understand what a comfort and encouragement they must be to one another. Dhont is far too delicate to pronounce, but audiences pick up the differences between these children and small signifiers very clearly: for example, the egalitarian way in which Leo (Eden Dambrine) addresses Remi’s (Gustav De Waele) mother; or the loving supportive affirmation Leo gives his less confident friend.

This difference becomes even more apparent when the two boys start a new school year together and their dissimilarity from other boys is noticed by other children, leading the boys, embarrassed by this observation, to argue and go their separate ways. This is just the first of the film’s many heartbreaks. It’s impressive to see the performances Dhont can elicit from his cast, how much control he must have as a director: a first proof of this is a scene in which Remi, who was deeply humiliated by an insult to his beloved pal, weeps hot tears, just flow out of his eyes at the breakfast table while he mumbles that he has a stomach ache. De Waele’s gentleness and open vulnerability contrasts brilliantly with the more composed Dambrine, whose pleasantly expressionless face sometimes becomes an inscrutable mask as he struggles to keep his emotions under control.

To mention much more of the story would be to go into spoiler territory, but it would be fair to say that the movie descends into tragedy relatively early on and the second half of the movie is taken up with the story of having to deal with it Devastation. Some found Dhont manipulative in the way he tells this narrative, pushing every emotional button he could think of. All I can say is that everything here felt alive and honest to me, the way life sometimes mixes horror with more of the same.

Throughout the film, Dhont’s script is impeccable; Notably, alongside dialogue that avoids the pitfalls of cliches and obviousness, there are some exquisite foreshadowings in the first half that find their place as the film progresses. The cinematography is unassuming throughout, serving the plot rather than showcasing itself, although Dhont manages to pack in porcelain skin and the busy daily life of that age, as well as the radiant beauty of harvesting on a flower farm with great naturalism. As in girl, the director proves immensely adept at capturing complex family dynamics without fuss or falsehood; Remarkably, there is almost no direct conflict in this film, just a deeply stirring unspoken indictment. This means that in a scene where one character says to another, “I like your hair” instead of “Hello,” we’re shaken again because we understand the tremendous weight of the words; how something as simple as “hello” is impossible to say and how the compliment gets around what needs to be said.

“Some found Dhont manipulative in the way he tells this narrative, pushing every emotional button he could think of. All I can say is that everything here felt alive and honest to me, the way life sometimes mixes horror with more of the same.”

Close is a film of often overwhelming emotional impact that isn’t afraid to give its audience a little beating. There is so much energy here, so much clarity, also in the construction that divides the film into individual chapters, with beautiful recurring motifs: for example the tender way Leo sleeps next to his friend and watches him, which is later imitated less successfully with one another friend with whom he cannot form a similar bond, and Leo’s brother, giving him some much-needed contact. Recurring motifs of eating, planting and harvesting, skating, and fighting add so much baggage to an otherwise tenuous narrative whose seeming simplicity is perhaps its greatest asset.

The act of growing up is central to Close— that desperate moment when children slip from happiness and innocence to knowledge and shame — compounding the crushing pain of the queer experience that what others are simply allowed to go through has to be spoken by you in a language that is not your own. Appropriate, Close bows with a beautiful scene of prolonged silence. “Close,” a devastating film about young queerness, has Cannes audiences roaring


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