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Close – movie review

Movie: Close |
Released: 2022 |

Rating 4.0 out of 5 stars


This was such a tender and beautifully presented tale of friendship and loss. One that was full of empathy and understanding.

The premise

Léo and Rémi are thirteen-year old boys who share a close friendship. So close in fact that they are extremely comfortable in each other’s company, appearing to share an intimate bond of an intensity not often shared by friends at that age. 
They are neighbours in rural Belgium and their two families are on cordial terms. The boys often have sleep-overs at each other’s homes. And the relationship, seen against their social and environmental context, seems innocent and totally platonic. 
At school, Rémi (Gustav de Waele) is an accomplished oboist and Léo (Eden Dambrine) is an adoring and supportive fan of his talent. However, their visible intimacy is questioned and even ridiculed by their schoolmates, despite it not having a sexualised element. 
As a direct reaction to this persistent taunting, bordering on bullying, the boys start to drift apart.  The unconscious uncoupling starts with Leo deciding to join the ice-hockey team on his own to forge a separate and distinct path for himself.  Leo has difficulty adjusting to this perceived abandonment.
When tragedy unexpectedly strikes, Leo struggles to make sense of the sudden loss of his friend. Much of the rest of the movie is devoted to the painful and slow burn of grieving; not just by Leo, but also his schoolmates and Rémi’s parents.

Unhurried grieving

The cinematography is evocative and voyeuristic, oscillating between non-spoken scenes capturing mood and snippets of interaction with sparing dialogue. There is much silence and patience and, to an astonishing degree, much pathos and understanding as Léo and the other others eventually come to grips with what has actually happened. 
We eventually get to the much anticipated pressure-releasing confrontation between Léo and Rémi’s mother Sophie (Émilie Dequenne) but not before a sensitive and realistic portrayal of how grieving unfolds after the loss of a son, a close friend and a classmate. 

Refreshingly un-Hollywood

This is not your typical Hollywood flick that would otherwise be focusing on the outcome and a neat little epilogue assigning blame or rattling off a tidy little moral of the story. Instead we get a brave and successful attempt at sharing with an audience the pain and confusion Leo and Remi’s parents go through in a palpable and touching way. 
This Belgian film by young and talented director Lukas Dhont was one of the 5 nominees for Best Picture (non-English language) in the 2023 Golden Globe Awards.
In many ways it is reminiscent of another recent Belgian film ‘Un Monde’ (Playground) we’ve watched which similarly deals with bullying in the school yard. That film was a masterly study on the socio-political dynamics of children at school by director Laura Wandel. It won the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) prize at the Cannes Festival in 2021. 
In both films, through incisively and candidly shot close-ups of the way children interact with each other against a backdrop of their social context, we are drawn right into a world that is not often portrayed on film; one which is equally insightful of the challenges of navigating human life in all its joy, glory and pitfalls at that young impressionable age. 
And all refreshingly told in a way that isn’t prescriptive, predictable or even judgemental, especially in the way it handles very sensitive and confronting subject-matter, certainly not in the way we’ve become accustomed to in our average movie watching diet.