Lukas Dhont's 'Close' Captures the Soul-Crushing Middle School Years

Two boys stare into each other's eyes
[L-R] Eden Dambrine as LEO, Gustav de Waele as REMI in CLOSE

Belgium's official entry for the Academy Awards this year, Close breaks your heart, punches you in the gut, and finally plants a lip-bruising kiss as it sails out the door. Capturing the soul-crushing time between childhood and adolescence, Lukas Dhont pairs up with screenwriter Angelo Tijssens for their second partnership after 2018's Girl.

[L-R] Gustav De Waele as REMI, Eden Dambrine as LEO in CLOSE

Léo (Eden Dambrine) treasures his friendship with Rémi (Gustav De Waele), his companion since childhood. The two share an openly affectionate relationship, demonstrated in the first half of the movie through sleepovers, play sessions, stories whispered in the dark, and mealtimes. But his classmates question the nature of their relationship, Léo feels flustered and begins to distance himself from Rémi, leaving his friend feeling abandoned. Léo will come to regret his choice through the course of one devastating school year.

[L-R] Eden Dambrine as LEO, Emilie Dequenne as SOPHIE in CLOSE

Few leave middle school unscathed, and Dhont represents that time in a kids' life with pain-inducing accuracy. The movie intro shows the boys filled with joy and energy. They run through the flower fields and relish their time together. As the title suggests, the boys are close, and the camera takes viewers into their zone of intimacy. Whether their connection is romantic or not is beside the point. What Léo and Rémi have is special, and we fall in love with each of them and their connection, courtesy of the camera's affectionate gaze. Watching Close reminds of Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Each moment of the ideal times feels like a framed work of art. We see Rémi through Léo's eyes and vice versa.

Then a switch occurs. As they enter the schoolyard, we see their demeanor change. The personal feel of the story is interrupted by a remarkable distancing shot. The camera pulls back, showing a sea of children, making Léo and Rémi two small fish in a very large pond. This is unfamiliar territory and must be navigated with caution. Every outfit, gesture, and word must be filtered for coolness. The goal is not to stand out. 

A still in CLOSE of LEO and his family

Once the switch happens, Léo struggles to maintain his balance. Close demonstrates the social pressure on boys to not show weakness or any traits associated with femininity. Even to his own detriment, Léo represses his emotions and avoids the truth, wreaking havoc along the way. The camera stays close to Léo, asking us to judge his actions and his eventual catharsis. We hurt for him, even as he delivers a thousand cuts to his friend. Be prepared with tissues for this raw and emotionally intense story.

Final score: 5 out of 5