"Close" Cannes Review
Growing up on neighboring homesteads in the Belgian countryside, Leo and Remi have been inseparable all their life. The two thirteen-year-old boys can often be found acting out pretend battles, riding their bikes as fast as they can, and telling stories to each other during sleepovers.
To them, their intimate relationship feels normal. They’ve created their perfect world where they are the only two inhabitants, the only ones that can truly understand the other. But to outsiders, specifically the inquisitive and suspecting kids in their class, there seems to be more under the surface. Some teasing and questioning about the closeness of their relationship seem to stick with Leo more than Remi. Both boys genuinely deny that they are anything more than best friends, but that answer brings no satisfaction to either party.
The pressures of conforming lead Leo to create some distance between him and Remi. He wants to hang out with the “cool kids” and be perceived as normal, which includes taking up ice hockey and other conventionally masculine activities. To Remi, this is a betrayal of their lifelong friendship and how he sees himself, which initiates a chain reaction culminating in tragedy.
The second film from Belgian wunderkind Lukas Dhont, Close marks his return to Cannes after claiming the Queer Palm and Golden Camera for his 2018 debut, Girl, which similarly dealt with gender dynamics and how an outsider can disrupt non-conventional relationships.
Filmed in ultra-high-definition with immense precision, Close further establishes Dhont, as well as his regular cinematographer Frank van den Eeden, as one of the purist up-and-coming craftsmen. There’s a feeling of epic openness with the lush Belgian flower fields beckoning you to run through them just as the boys do in one entrancing tracking shot. But there’s also intimacy in the climactic scene where the camera holds on to a close-up of a mother for what seems like an eternity as she ponders how to answer her son’s question. The audience and the characters are trapped in that unbearable moment as the weight of the world is about to topple over.
Similar to Trey Edward Shults’ Waves, Dhont’s film is distinctly split down the middle, with the tragic moment acting as the dividing line. The lightful questioning of the first half is immediately replaced with darkness, which Dhont isn’t able to handle with the same amount of depth. He traps his characters, as well as the audience, in a revolving door of suffering, making them go round and round a few too many times before they can move on. While not as extreme, it does often feel burdened by the influence of the provocative work of Lars von Trier. Just as the Danish bad boy can often be quite controversial, the reception to Dhont’s latter material may be as well.
But even in its excessiveness, there’s still great beauty within all aspects of the production. While Dhont can’t fully handle both sides of the dramatic coin, Valentin Hadjadj’s wondrous score is fully up to the task. With fluttery strings and stinging violins, Hadjadj impeccably accentuates every moment.
And Eden Dambrine, playing Leo, is a revelation. Bringing tenderness to his emotionally and physically wounded character, Dambrine always finds his way to push through the material. The same can be said for Gustav De Waele, who handles his character’s questioning with the necessary delicacy.
As a filmmaker, Lukas Dhont is both mature and immature. At the young age of thirty-one, he can carefully find the emotional core that unlocks his sweeping coming-of-age stories of love and acceptance. But like many young directors, Dhont takes the emotion hostage as he churns it out with unnecessary furiosity. With a better sense of balance, we may soon have ourselves one of the premiere filmmakers on the international scene.