Rating: 4 out of 5.

Belgium’s submission for Best International Film at the 95th Academy Awards garnered enough votes to be one of the five nominees. This is only the 8th time the country has made it into the category. The last instance was when The Broken Circle Breakdown had a spot at the 2014 awards. Belgium has yet to win, but I’d be delighted if that changed this year. The nine-time Oscar nominee All Quiet on the Western Front from Germany is the most significant competition and the odds-on favorite. However, this award has produced surprises before, so you never know.

Close is the story of a friendship between two boys in their early teens. The narrative boasts a refreshingly simple plot but offers a profoundly deep concept. Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele) are boon companions on the precipice of adulthood. They’re still figuring out who they are and what they will be. The 13-year-old boys live in a rural area in Belgium and have grown up together. They share a relaxed familiarity characterized by casual affection, not unlike brothers. The naive innocence in their demeanor immediately moved me.

Young actors Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele are incredible. The duo has a carefree ease with one another, not as actors but as real children. Their actions are natural, free from the auspices of making a movie. The pair run through the fields, ride bikes, laugh and play. Léo’s parents run a flower farm, so they’re outdoors often. Their life is a veritable Garden of Eden. Many scenes favor the language of visuals over mere words. Frank van den Eeden’s cinematography highlights this. After this idyllic summer, the boys start high school. It’s clear to everyone they are extremely chummy. Inseparable is more like it. A trio of girls notices this and are curious. One of them dares to ask, “Are you two together?” “We’re close because we’re best friends,” Léo says defensively. “Are you sure?” she presses. The question is the beginning of an estrangement.

Close sneaks up on you. Deeper themes percolate beneath the surface. Director Lukas Dhont has attested in interviews that this is a profoundly personal work. He incorporates ideas of intimacy, masculinity, adaptability, and fear with such subtlety. Suspicions are neither confirmed nor denied. Nothing beyond a chaste camaraderie is ever depicted. It simply details how an assumption can change behavior. A portrait of anxiety, marked by depression, matures into a tremendously sad chronicle. The account rarely feels manipulative, save for one critical event. Afterward, the handling of the subject is less graceful. I would have preferred this material be explored without the tragedy. Nevertheless, it is a powerful depiction of how people conform to fit in. Many things are left unspoken, but one thing remains true. Close is a poignant tale about friendship and its disintegration. The subtleties of the saga take hold and gradually overwhelm the emotions.


2 Responses to “Close”

  1. This was an emotional ride. You’re right. Very subtle. This was storytelling at its best. Acting was outstanding. 4 stars ⭐️

    Liked by 1 person

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