Directed by: Lukas Dhont
Written by: Lukas Dhont, Angelo Tijssens
Starring: Eden Dambrine, Gustav de Waele, Émilie Dequenne, Léa Drucker, Kevin Janssens, Igor van Dessel
Released: February 16, 2023
Grade: A+


Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont (Girl) was looking for script ideas when he came across the research of Dr. Niobe Way, a Professor of Developmental Psychology at New York University, who had interviewed hundreds of boys over a period of two decades.  Way’s analysis showed that friendships during early adolescence can be deeply intimate but, once they enter their mid-to-late teenage years, they become less emotionally expressive and less trustful with male friends.  There’s also a fear of getting too close to someone and being labelled a homosexual.

This idea is at the heart of Close, a gut-wrenching drama which took the runner-up honours at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival (Triangle of Sadness won the top prize).  It’s the tale of two 13-year-old boys, Léo (Dambrine) and Rémi (de Waele), who have been childhood friends for as long as they can remember.  They sleep over at each other’s house, chill with their respective parents, and talk about working together one day – Rémi is a talented oboe player and Léo playfully jokes about becoming his tour manager.

Their first days of high school begin with blissful ignorance.  They sit next to each other class, play at lunchtime, and ride their bikes home together.  It’s in the school’s cafeteria where a female classmate finally voices what others have been thinking – are the two of them a “couple”?  The question takes them a second to answer (“no”) but the ramifications will linger for much longer.  With an increasing level of self-consciousness, Léo looks for reasons to pull away and spend less time with Rémi.  Some are valid (playing competitive ice hockey with new friends) while others are not (lying about reasons why they can’t catch up).  A confused Rémi can’t reconcile their declining connection and at one point, he lashes out with violence in front of others in the school playground. 

Nominated at the upcoming Academy Awards for best international feature film, Close is devastatingly authentic.  Dhont creates this vibe by using handheld cameras, sometimes close-up and sometimes at a long distance, to give it a documentary-like feel.  Dialogue is used sparingly and it’s amazing just how much can be gleaned from a close-up on an actor’s face – whether it be a tear down the cheek, or eyes quickly shifting direction.

The cinematography of Frank van den Eeden is stunning, and the music of composer Valentin Hadjadj is haunting.  They may come across as minor plot points but Dhont and co-writer Angelo Tijssens throw in other interesting elements dealing with masculinity including the connection between two brothers (Igor van Dessel is faultless as Léo’s older sibling), and locker room antics after sporting games.

Above all else though, Close achieves its emotional power because of the incredible performances offered up by teenage stars Eden Dambrine and Gustav de Waele.  They’re two of the finest performances I’ve ever seen from child actors with the now 16-year-old Dambrine nominated at the European Film Awards for best actor.  Dhont cast them six months prior to the shoot and that provided the time to build a legitimate friendship between the pair and allow them to craft their own dialogue and subplots to best fit the characters.

If I see a better film this year, I’ll be surprised.