Review of Lukas Dhont’s ‘Close’

Coming-of-age stories are immensely popular in literature and cinema. And why not? We all go through the stages (some more effectively than others). Writer-director Lukas Dhont is no stranger to backlash and criticism after his 2018 feature film debut, Girl, and the approach he took on transgender issues.

In Close, the topic is different, yet his approach still opens him up to additional criticism. However, if the viewer isn’t on a quest for controversy, this story from Dhont and co-writer Angelo Tijssens is quite touching.

Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele) are 13-year-old best friends. The thing we notice immediately is that their bond is unusually close, even for adolescent buddies. They each seem to be complete only when in the presence of the other. Rémi is a very sensitive young man who excels at playing oboe on the school stage as he’s cheered on by Léo.

Of course, we all know that 13-year-old classmates are not known for tact and diplomacy, and soon the biting comments find flesh (so to speak). Rémi mostly pays no mind to the cracks, but Léo starts to question the friendship. He seeks out other connections and even finds a way to appear more macho, despite his androgynous appearance and mannerisms.

Remarkably, both of these young men are first-time actors. Mr. Dambrine has an especially appealing screen presence. Also effective are Émilie Dequenne and Léa Drucker as the boys’ mothers, yet mostly the focus here is on the boys and how pure their emotions are until corrupted by others. Also at the forefront is a theme of learning to deal with loss and guilt, even at a young age. It can be easy to dismiss such films as manipulative, yet sometimes the writing and acting are such that the story strikes the right note.

That’s what filmmaker Lukas Dhont has done here, and he’s rewarded Belgium with an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film.