On Thursday Feb. 9, the Williams Lake Film Club is thrilled to screen Close at the Paradise Cinemas at 7 p.m. This is the second feature film by Belgian filmmaker and screenwriter Lukas Dhont, and it was just nominated for Best International Feature at this year’s Oscars. It won the prestigious Grand Prix Award at Cannes in 2022, where it premiered to virtually universal acclaim, and it is just now being released theatrically. It currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 92 per cent amongst film critics.
There is a tremendous amount of beauty, tenderness and empathy in this film, and ultimately it is a tale of growing up. In fiction, we would call this story a “bildungsroman,” which is a specific genre of literature about the growth and education that a character undergoes from lost child to mature adult. Narratively, Close chronicles the relationship between two thirteen-year-old boys growing up in rural Belgium over the course of a year. Leo and Remi (played respectively by newcomers Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele) are best friends. As close as brothers, the two boys spend their time in the countryside, immersed in imaginative play, riding their bikes, and sleeping over at each other’s house. They are affectionate with each other, and they do everything together.
After an idyllic summer, the boys begin a new school year, in a new setting. While Leo had never been self-conscious about their relationship before, suddenly under the new scrutiny of classmates, he finds himself embarrassed at the closeness he shares with Remi. When a group of girls question as to whether Leo and Remi are a couple, Leo vociferously denies it. Slowly and wordlessly, he begins the process of separating from his friend.
Where once Leo cherished his friendship, he now feels compelled to push it, and that part of himself, away. Remi is distraught to lose his best friend without reason or warning, and it is all the more devastating because he is powerless to stop it. We see how the standards of masculinity, both isolating and performative, snuff out feelings and real connection. The first half of the film details Leo’s life with Remi, and in the second half Leo must contend with life without him. While the film deals with the highs of friendship along with the lows of rejection, loss, grief and guilt, it is fundamentally about acceptance and compassion.
Dhont’s filmmaking style is precise. He understands how much we give away by gesture, by body language, without saying a word, and he is able to capture it in film. As film critic Anthony Lane puts it, “[w]hat Dhont understands, in short, is how kinetic the rites of passage are – how growing pains are expressed not in words, however therapeutic, but in rushes of activity” (New Yorker Jan 2023). This is a filmmaker who trusts his actors, and under his direction, Eden Dambrine and Gustav de Waele deliver outstanding and unforgettable performances, as do the other actors, notably Remi’s mother Sophie, played by Emilie Dequennethe.
The film’s subject matter is very personal to Dhont. As he explains “[a]t a certain point in my puberty, I distanced myself not only from young men but from all the people around me, because I also felt those pressures of masculinity.” In many ways, it has nothing to do with sexuality, it is how we perceive these expressions of tenderness and how we immediately want to categorize them” (IndieWire Dec 2022). He explains that with Close, his intent was to make a film that is “on the one hand, about fragility and tenderness, but also what happens when we deprive young men of that fragility” (Variety Fair Jan 2023).
This is an emotionally transformative film, and although the situation is very specific to Leo and Remi, it touches upon universal rites of passage that we can all relate to: what does it mean to be a friend, how should we treat one another, how do we internalize pain and gender norms? how do we live with loss? how do we change ourselves in the pursuit of belonging, and what do we lose in the process? You will leave reflecting on your own relationships, and it promises to be a film you continue to reflect on long after the credits have rolled.
Close will be screening on Thursday Feb. 9 at the Paradise Cinemas (78 Third Ave South). Rated PG. Tickets are $10. Advance tickets are now on sale at The Open Book, and remaining tickets will be sold in the cinema lobby prior to the screening. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the show starts at 7 p.m.
We encourage you to get your tickets in advance, and to arrive early to get a good seat (and popcorn!). To hear about the latest upcoming Williams Lake Film Club screenings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.