Lukas Dhont (GIRL) returns to our screens with a devastatingly sad and beautifully observed story about the impact of homophobia on the friendship of two 13-year old boys in contemporary Belgium.
As we meet them, Leo and Remi are as close and intimate as brothers, running and cycling free through fields of flowers. They feel innocent and pre-pubescent although I feel that Dhont's lensing points us to the idea that the way Leo looks at Remi is one of love and unacknowledged desire.
This idyllic existence comes to an end of the first day of high school, when a girl observes their physical closeness and asks if they're a couple in a barrage of questions dripping in homophobia. The fact that their relationship is not seen as normal or acceptable is emphasised by the schoolyard boys calling Leo a faggot and pansy.
Although Remi is present at the conversation with the girls, their snide accusations seem to roll off of him. Maybe it's because he doesn't fully understand their meaning? Maybe he's just secure in what makes him happy - and that's just hanging out with Leo and playing the oboe. But Leo does react, angrily and vocally and physically, pushing Remi away from physical intimacy and learning to play ice hockey to become one of the cool, avowedly heteronormative boys. And yet, and yet, when he goes to see Remi at a concert, we still see his adoring glance. Remi, in his greater innocence, cannot fathom why his friend is pushing him away and his heart breaks.
The final hour of the film unfolds the consequences of heartbreak, with Leo, perhaps a self-hating, slowly realising that he is gay teen, coming to terms with his loss. In Lukas Dhont's delicate hands, this is all taken in delicate steps foregrounding Leo's further turn inwards, and his relationship with Remi's mother Sophie. It's fascinating to me that the adult men - Remi and Leo's fathers - are less present, but when they are, are vulnerable and anti-hetero-normative.
This film is stunningly shot and beautifully acted. Credit to Dhont for uncovering and nurturing the talent of his two leads, Gustav de Waele (Remi) And Eden Dambrine (Leo). But special credit to Emilie Dequenne as Sophie. She deserves all the Best Supporting Actress awards that there are to give.
CLOSE is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 105 minutes. Lukas Dhont won the Grand Prix at Cannes 2022. It also played Telluride and will play the BFI London Film Festival 2022.