Lukas Dhont’s sophomore feature, Close, is a remarkably well-directed film about childhood grief in a time maybe of its greatest need. It’s a great next step for the young director, whose feature debut Girl premiered at Cannes, in the Un Certain Regard strand where it won multiple awards. A true tear-inducer, Close has the chance to make waves across the Atlantic given how unequivocally impactful it is.
There is an ever-lively connection between Léo (Eden Dambrine) and (Rémi Gustav de Waele), this is evident from the very beginning. The film opens with the duo playing a game, pretending to be holding off incoming enemies. They then head home absolutely shattered, so they sleep, in the same bed. the next day they cycle to school for the start of the new year. They are met with adversary as their classmates begin to question their relationship, with many theorising that they are a couple. Not knowing how to respond, Léo adamantly denies any sort of relationship between the two of them. This causes a rift between them as Léo continues to distance himself away from any of the rumours and joining in with other friend groups, neglecting his best friend. Unbeknownst to anyone, whilst on a school trip, tragic news arrives which kicks off the second act.
Dhont’s choice to introduce the characters with innocence and childish naivety, at the beginning, only makes for greater tragedy and heartache as the story churns by. It is told with a delicate touch, Dhont subtly paves the way. It then proceeds to the inciting incident which is brilliantly staged to overwhelm and suddenly hits the audience with a shockwave of heartbreak. What happens next is a balancing game between the quieter scenes with Léo, compared to the loud ice hockey bits. This contrast is important as it highlights the duality of Léo’s thoughts, showcasing the two sides in a stark manner. Likewise, the way it’s lit and shot emphasises this; the ice hockey scenes are handheld with bright lighting and the others are predominantly stabilised with soft light. Dhont and cinematographer Frank van den Eeden show a really good understanding for how composition can affect audiences, their collaboration is priceless.
What makes Dhont’s film so outstanding is how sensitive it is, it gives Léo room to breath and recoup his true thoughts. A portion of the Léo’s inner thoughts remain ambiguous because of his quiet, reserved nature, especially given the extreme circumstances that he’s thrown into. However, Dhont allows for just the right amount of verbal acknowledgement of his thoughts for the spectator to become attached, beyond the masterful facial and bodily acting that Dambrine does. His casting is a miracle, hopefully he gains the attention he deserves. Likewise, Dambrine’s scene partner, Gustav de Waele, delivers a beautifully tender performance. But it’s Dambrine’s reaction to the shocking news that really sells the tragedy for us, especially as we are obstructed from finding out the whole truth. How Dhont and his casting director found such perfect new, young actors is an absolute mystery.
There is a true emotional, tearjerking factor to Close, almost the entire Cannes audience sobbed, at least a little bit. Tears flow as Léo tries to move on with his life, but cannot let go of his cooped up devastation that has become all too much for him to mentally handle. We continue to be pulled along by Dhont’s ace film as it emotionally succeeds. With a film and narrative like this, there is always the chance that melodrama could seep in. However, no such element is ever present, it retains its emotion throughout the entire runtime and beyond. Close is very hard to shake, it is a real sticker for the mind.
Even if Close doesn’t reign victorious, as it should, at tomorrow’s Cannes award ceremony, it’s okay because its impact will be felt far beyond the walls of the Croisette. Dhont has seriously performed a miracle of art by pulling off such a great film. But it’s the pairing of beautiful, emotionally-motivated cinematography, stellar performances and ace direction that drives the intent of the story home. It beautifully begins with a blossoming, potentially loving, relationship and ends with the acceptance of what happened, the film is always empathetic and knows where its heart lies.
This review is from the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. A24 will release Close in the U.S.