February 3, 2023 / Sphere Films Canada
Eden Dambrine, Gustav De Waele, Émilie Dequenne, Léa Drucker
Leo and Remi are two thirteen-year-old best friends, whose seemingly unbreakable bond is suddenly, tragically torn apart. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Lukas Dhont's second film is an emotionally transformative and unforgettable portrait of the intersection of friendship and love, identity and independence, and heartbreak and healing.
Written By Darren
Rating 4 out of 5
Close is a beautiful yet utterly devastating drama that will break you down and leave you in a puddle of tears, thanks to the outstanding direction of Lukas Dhont and the breakout lead performance of Eden Dambrine.
I knew I was in for an emotionally taxing watch as I sat down with my screener of Close, but nothing could have prepared me for the emotional story that Dhont told with such grace and raw emotion. And despite the true despair that I felt while watching the film, I would not change my decision to watch the film for a second because Dhont has created a truly special film. It’s clear why this film not only received a nomination for Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards this year, but also won the Grand Prix award at the Cannes Film Festival last year, as Close is truly a one of a kind film.
The film tells the story of two young boys, Léo and Rémi, who are best friends. Like many young boys at that age, their relationship is incredibly close, to the point that Léo and Rémi are essentially brothers. However, their friendship is abruptly disrupted, leaving Léo struggling to comprehend what has transpired and forcing him to confront his own actions.
Knowing as little as you can is the best way to experience this film, because if you know what happens in the film, you will probably not want to watch the film. The film tackles challenging subject matter and despite the film being told from the innocent view of a thirteen year old boy, it never sugarcoats the themes. Instead, the grief that the characters are plunged in fuel this coming of age story as it opens up Léo to the realities of the world as he is forced to face some of the most difficult things that life has in store for a person at such a young age.
The writing is honest in the way it portrays the raw emotions of the events, the blurred lines of what Léo and Rémi truly mean to each other, and the unspeakable reaction to the event that disrupts their friendship, crushing your heart into a million pieces as you watch it. It is a bold yet important story to tell, and one that I’m not sure that could have been made within the American film industry as the honest voice in which the story is told would have been lost as it was turned into something designed to make money.
Though, it is the performances that Dhont’s direction elicits from his cast that brings this story to life. Mainly from young Eden Dambrine in the lead role of Léo. It’s truly mind boggling that this is Dambrine’s first performance, because the range of emotions that he captures throughout the film is at the caliber you would expect from a seasoned actor with years of practice. In every scene, Dambrine captures a true vulnerability and childhood innocence that fuels his character’s internal struggle, at the same time bringing to life the joy of being a child trying to grow up and experience life.
Equally as impressive as Dambrine’s lead performance are the supporting performances. Gustav De Waele is great opposite Dambrine as Rémi, and with Dambrine the two of them create a truly passionate bond that creates the emotional backbone of the film. Émilie Dequenne is marvelous as Rémi’s mother Sophie, capturing a complex emotional state with grace and sincerity. She’s great, and with Dambrine as her scene partner, the two of them create the film’s most heartbreaking moments that will leave you weeping. And while he only has a handful of scenes, Kevin Janssens gives an emotionally stirring performance that is magnificent at the same time as being absolutely devastating.
Accompanying the incredible performances and honest storytelling, Dhont and his cinematographer Frank van den Eeden have created a visually stunning film. The use of colour in the first half creates a vibrant story, which is quickly drained at the halfway mark when the story quickly changes its narrative course. Whether it be the shots of Léo and Rémi running through the flower fields, the unique angles used to capture their games, or deliberate frames shown to convey what has happened to their friendship, you are instantly sucked into the film thanks to the visual presentation of the story.
Not all films are fun and happy, sometimes you need a film that tackles emotionally challenging subject matter to remind you of the importance of friendship and life, and that is exactly what Close does. Packing a major emotional suckerpunch that will leave you sobbing due to its honesty and the raw emotion it conveys, combined with a great collection of performances led by the sensational Eden Dambrine, Lukas Dhont has crafted a truly marvelous film with Close that is one cinematic journey that must be experienced.