GARY STEEL cries like a baby through an award-winning film that explores the crumbling relationship between two 13-year-old besties.
There are loads of films broadly exploring the “coming of age” theme, but few of them really get into the nitty-gritty of the emotional challenges and the sometimes insurmountably frightening obstacles that those years can bring. Close goes one step further, by zeroing in on the very close friendship between two 13-year-old boys, and how schoolyard tensions can change everything – in this case, to devastating effect.
The second feature film of Belgian director Lukas Dhont won the Grand Prix prize last year at Cannes Film Festival, and deservedly so.
Set in rural Belgium, the flower-filled fields and country homesteads provide a wonderfully bucolic backdrop to a story that focuses with laser-like attention on the minutiae of the relationship between Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustav De Waele), two friends who have been besties seemingly forever and do everything together.
There’s a sweet intimacy between them that’s uncomplicated and innocent, but the onset of adolescence and schoolyard taunting – namely, the suggestion that they’re a couple – makes Leo pull away from the friendship. The eventual result is catastrophic and the pall of sadness that hangs over the last third of the film makes it hard to watch through the tears.
What makes Close so watchable is its almost documentary-style. While scenes in the flower fields look lush and the camera cleverly catches the smallest gestures in dramatic scenes, the frequent depictions of schoolground dynamics make the viewer feel like a fly on the wall. In other words, Dhont’s style refers back to the cinema verité movement of the 1960s, while somehow incorporating a typically Gallic tendency towards probing voyeurism.
That voyeurism is my only real criticism of Close; especially the way the camera constantly focuses itself on the boys’ faces, in close-up. Yes, they’re both beautiful boys with large, innocent eyes, and I understand the intention of capturing the edge of childhood innocence before it crashes into the troubling complexities of adolescence, but I think the film would have been even stronger had it not relied so heavily on those facial close-ups.
Despite this, it’s a stand-out film, based on Dhont’s own boyhood experiences, that has the courage to look at intimate friendships between boys without flinching. We still live in a prescribed world where the transition from boy to man requires the constant display of machismo to enable a less tortuous journey through high school, inhibits personal expression, and often leads to emotionally stunted adults. Close makes no suggestion as to whether the boys are gay because that, surely, is irrelevant. It’s a fascinating subject and the situation is depicted with a great deal of honesty and subtlety. Highly recommended.
+ Close screens around New Zealand at selected independent cinemas from Thursday May 11.
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