Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Lukas Dhont

Stars: Eden Dambrine, Gustav de Waele, Emilie Dequenne, Lea Drucker, Igor Van Dessel.

This bittersweet coming of age tale hails from Belgium. It is a powerful and deeply affecting drama that packs a real emotional punch.  

It centres on two 13-year-old boys – Leo (newcomer Eden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustav de Waele) – who have been best friends forever. During the summer holidays Leo often helps out on the flower farm run by his parents, but he and Remi also hang out together. Almost inseparable, they play make believe games together in old war bunkers, and they often sleep over at each other’s house. Their friendship is genuine and platonic, almost like brothers, although it is clear that Remi feels more strongly towards his friend.  

When they start high school though several classmates tease them about their close friendship, hinting that they “must be gay”. Somewhat self-conscious and a little embarrassed, Leo begins to drive Remi away and the dynamic between them is irrevocably altered. His actions have devastating consequences and Leo has to live with the guilt.  

Close is the second feature from writer/director Lukas Dhont and follows his 2018 drama Girl. The film has largely been inspired by his own adolescence, and it deals with themes of love, friendship, masculinity, the loss of innocence, identity, sexuality, guilt and healing, but it is handled with sensitivity and honesty. Dhont and his co-writer Angelo Tijssens have also drawn inspiration for the film from Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships And The Crisis Of Connection, a study conducted by US psychologist Niobe Way that looked at intimacy amongst teenaged boys. 

The film is set against the bucolic backdrop of the Belgian countryside, and takes place over the course of year, with the different seasons reflecting the changing moods and dynamics between the two boys. Dhont takes an observational approach to the material, and he has been aided by the beautiful lyrical camerawork by cinematographer Frank van den Eeden (who also worked on Dhont’s previous film). He often draws in close to Dambrine’s expressive face to capture his inner confusion, his sorrow and emotional journey. And the camera seems to love him. But at other time, van den Eeden uses long shots to illustrate the distance between the two boys as Leo slowly draws away from Remi. 

Dhont draws superb performances from his two young leads, neither of whom has acted previously.  Dambrine, who Dhont spotted on a train, is particularly good as Leo, and he carries the emotional heft of the film with a maturity beyond his tender years. He often has to convey some complex emotions without words. Emilie Dequenne delivers a heartbreaking performance as Sophie, Remi’s protective mother. Lea Drucker is also very good in a smaller role as Leo’s mother Nathalie. 

The film fittingly won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes, and it is also Belgium’s official entry for the 2023 Best Foreign Language Oscar. 


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