It is easy to see why Close won the 2022 Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. The film is simple, honest, and devastating.
Close is about two boys (Leo and Remi), perhaps ages 12 or 13, who begin a new school year in a higher form. The movie takes place in Belgium so I’m not sure if you would call it junior high, but that matters little because the school is new terrain for them. They are the best of friends, closer than close. Intimate with both each other and their families. There is nothing sexual about the relationship, though that assumption would be understandable.
Indeed, students at the new school believe the two boys are gay or “together.” It’s why many will characterize Close as a movie about homophobia and how taunts about the boys’ familiarity impels Leo to distance himself from Remi.
But I don’t believe the film is about this piece of the intersectional pie. Close is less about the effects of homophobia or bullying and more about the pain of a broken relationship—any broken relationship.
It is not just lovers or spouses who break up but friends too. It happens every day and to all of us. Think of any close friend or intimate you’ve had who moved on from you or vice versa.
Some might opt to spin Close as a coming of age story, but I resist this angle as well. It is not only prepubescents who experience rejection as they grow and evolve. Middle-age couples divorce. A long time employee is let go. There are many crack ups in life. That’s the power of Close; rejection is universal.
However, the youth and innocence of the boys is what makes Close especially heart-wrenching. Spoiler alert: read no farther if you do not wish to learn Remi cannot handle the separation and kills himself.
He had shown no signs of instability before, but he is played as sensitive and more of a loner than Leo, who seeks out others. Leo takes up ice hockey and bonds with new teammates while Remi performs a solo piece on his oboe. Leo seems to be searching for a new dynamic while Remi clings to the old one. He is unwilling or unable to navigate social and interpersonal changes. Leo wants other connections, while Remi desires to remain true to one connection. When he feels it slipping away he can’t exist in the world any longer.
Secondarily, Close is a movie about surviving. Though Remi commits the act that propels the film forward, Close is Leo’s story. Remi takes the easy way out in dealing with his emotional pain, while Leo is left to carry on for both of them, as well as Remi’s parents.
The suicide occurs about halfway into the movie, and the latter part is about coping and moving past the tragedy. Can you do it? Can you overcome the guilt and shame of surviving or does it always stay with you? The final scene suggests not. There is no catharsis, only reminders and whispers and ghosts.
Close is set against the backdrop of a flower nursery in Belgium. Think Van Gogh’s sunflowers. All is bright and colorful as the boys chase each other through the flora. Leo’s parents run the farm with his older brother. Remi’s mother is a pediatric nurse with an art deco style house and a big, friendly dog in the yard. In a word: idyll.
But this Eden is not isolated, and the boys must enter a world where identities and interactions will alter the contours of their psyches.
Every performance is wonderful. The cinema verite style contributes deftly to, at first, the immediacy of their bond and then later its sundering.
When you go to see this movie (and go you must) try to leave your political leanings at the door. Think of Close as a movie about you or anyone and how decisions, whether wise or not, whether intended or not, can alter your life irrevocably—and how dealing with the change either cripples you or brings your strength to the foreground.
BLAST RATING: 4 of 4 STARS
Directed by: Lukas Dhont
Written by: Lukas Dhont & Angelo Tijssens
Produced by: Michiel Dhont & Dirk Impens
Starring: Eden Dambrine, Gustav De Waele, E?milie Dequenne & Le?a Drucker
Running Time: 105 minutes