Lukas Dhont's Close stands out as a remarkably powerful film; charged by an incredibly subtle touch, the film is poignant without being overdramatic, and this is partly due to the brilliant performances that lie at its core.
The first half of Close focuses on the friendship between Léo and Rémi (Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele) two thirteen-year-old boys whose friendship borders on brotherly, a platonic infatuation. But the friendship is easily strained when kids at school start asking if they're a 'couple'. While Rémi takes no major offence, this is clearly an issue for Léo who tries to phase his best friend out of his new life. When tragedy strikes in the film's second half, Léo develops a friendship with Rémi's mum (played by Émilie Dequenne) and the film shifts from a tale of friendship to forgiveness.
Though formally quite simple, it is cleverly filmed, especially in the way the film offers so much space for the two young actors; they have freedom in the frame to play around, to wrestle and run. One notes how the framing tightens as the film progresses, as relations fray. Eden Dambrine delivered one of the most exceptional child performances in recent cinema; he's a little deadpan, and yet his face is rich with emotion. Children are often like this I suppose, their emotions exceeding their ability to express. But Dambrine showed immense control and precision with his talent, never indulging in excessive grief. His friendship with Gustav De Waele's character was not only believable, but felt through every silent glance, every corner-of-the-mouth smile, and credit goes to both these young actors.
Close walks its emotional tightrope with care and never risks falling. Admittedly, the half-way tragedy felt contrived, especially with the history of 'Bury Your Gays', where queer characters are historically handed death-sentences on screen (The Children's Hour, Rebel Without a Cause etc etc). The only thing that rescued the film from this mis-step was the way Eden Dambrine's gravity absorbed us, and the well-handled, mature conclusion that he may never get over the tragedy, but learns to accommodate it within his progressing adolescence.
The film is solid storytelling; it’s restrained, introspective, but totally moving. Lukas Dhont respects the humility, humanity, and flaws of children, and without making grand statements, he offers insights into their damaged worlds. Without the need for novelty, Close proved itself a very special film.