'Close' is a touching masterpiece, detailing the joys of friendship and the pain of loss: a story that can relate to many queer individuals around the globe who have an intimate friendship with the same gender.
Viewed on Saturday 28 May as press for the Cannes Film Festival 2022.
Childhood is a crazy whirlwind. It’s where the young mature, core memories are created, love blossoms… Friendship is, arguably, the glue that holds it all together, and Lukas Dhont’s Close (2022) is a sensitive glance into the fragile world that is growing-up.
Following on from Dhont’s successful queer narrative, Girl (2018), it was only inevitable for him to continue his exploration of queerness. But it’s not as chalk and cheese as you think. I, admittedly, left the theatre wondering whether a queer reading was appropriate for Close, as I was convinced Dhont was telling a beautifully poignant narrative about the tragedy of repressed homosexuality between two young boys.
“You know what the beauty of a film is? That I try to put a document into the world that I’m deeply passionate about and that I try to shape it in the best possible way. And then from the moment that movie is shown, it is not mine anymore. It is the eyes that look at it, the audience members sitting in the space. Every reading of this film is fine by me, themes like friendship, masculinity, the violence of conforming to a group or feeling different. They’re all themes that are both queer and straight. So yes, they can be queer or anything” – Lukas Dhont, FilmInk.
However, Close hits even closer to home for me with a narrative exploring how society codes an intimate relationship between two boys as explicitly queer when, in reality, Dhont’s leads only share a strong platonic bond.
Homophobic slurs are slugged at both the extremely talented Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav de Waele) when they join upper school, struggling to navigate their deep-rooted friendship in the face of garish bullying and the cruel pressure of social conformity. Yet, scenes flashing with the visceral blur of colourful Belgium tulips – those reds, yellows, and greens – is their escape. I, along with Leo and Rémi, was transported into what felt like a familiar dimension isolated from the wickedness of playground politics. I experienced an acute nostalgia for running through fields, laughing endlessly, and existing with no anxieties, much like how Gábor Csupó‘s Bridge to Terebithia (2007) made me feel when I was younger.
Dhont’s handling of childhood fragility is deft, with Dambrine and de Waele offering astonishingly convincing performances as two boys who live on the earth without malice or restraint. Moreover, Dhont wastes no line of dialogue, especially on Émilie Dequenne’s stellar performance as Sophie, whose silences are louder than her sharp outbursts. Much like Csupó’s narrative, Dequenne’s performance revolves around the tragedy of the film’s second act. Dhont’s characters are forced to rekindle existing relationships and discover how to move forward with the gaping trauma that rocks the narrative.
Close is repetitive – cyclical in nature – imitating the tos and fros of grief, like a tide on a beach. Traveling from the tulip fields, to the school, to the ice rink, to the safety of home; the audience is lulled into the relentless pattern of Leo’s life, mirroring how grief entraps its subject and can, at times, suffocate them. But with every revisit to a location, Dhont rewards audiences with the growth of his characters, and how they successfully navigate their trauma(s).
“I think we’ve all had incredible friendships in our lives. Sometimes we can lose touch with friends, we can lose friendships, whether it’s our own fault of whether it’s a matter of circumstances, but it can be incredibly heartbreaking. A lot of the time, heartbreak is treated in romantic relationships in cinema, so I really wanted to make a film about the beauty and the heartbreak of friendship” – Lukas Dhont, FilmInk.
Indeed, Close is an incredibly rich depiction of grief and how you deal with its invisible furies, and I urge all moviegoers to watch this masterpiece. I’ve never had a movie shake me to my core as Close has. It’s certainly the film of the year for me, and I hope Close‘s message can reach those out there who are struggling to process their own trauma and come to terms with their identity.
Below is a segment from the Cannes Jury Press Conference where I was fortunate enough to ask Lukas Dhont a question regarding young people entering the film industry.
Q: This is a question from Euan Cook from The Edge at the University of Southampton. I want to just say thank you for creating such a captivating film which resonated with me and also brought forward an issue quite close to home. As a member of the queer community, trying to have close connections with men has always been a difficulty for me. So, I would just like to say thank you for that. But this is more a question for the young people in the film industry. What advice can you give to young people trying to make it in the industry today?
A: You know, there’s a long history of cinema and sometimes when you desire to be a part of it, sometimes you think that you have to conform to what others want or have already done. I mean, I’ve had that in my personal life. For the longest time, I thought I had to be like others to be accepted. And then, at a certain moment in my life, I decided to stop that. I think that was the first moment where I started to really write through my own lens and through my perspective and through my own gaze. So, I think as a young person, wanting to make something – whether that’s cinema, or write something, or paint something – I think the only thing you can do is try to make it through your own perspective. And I think not to be occupied with how others then may perceive that, but in the first place try to make something that is truly authentic to you. That is, I think, the most valuable and most important thing you can do: put something in the world that is, first of all, important to you, and then see if it’s important to others. Hopefully, it will be. I hope so for you, really.