Prior to the Oscar nominated Close, Belgian director Lukas Dhont’s sole directorial effort was 2018’s Girl, a film based on the true experiences of a transgender girl’s career as a ballerina. Here, he again challenges the heteronormative industry, owing to his own queer identity and emotions clearly felt throughout. It’s a coming-of-age story about two best friends, Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémis (Gustav De Waele), who are inseparable throughout childhood, yet tragically parted on the cusp of adolescence. Christian Clark reviews.
We go to the cinema not just to watch, or to wonder, but to feel. Ironically, walking out of the cinema after Close, I felt numb. Offset by the pure emotion of the film yet not sure what to make of it. Only taking the tram back through the city at rush hour surrounded by people of all climbs did it hit me. And, man, it really hit me.
Close doesn’t just critique the way heteronormativity affects those who are queer, it critiques the tearing down of anybody not totally conformist
One of the film’s most impressive traits is the performance of Dambrine as Léo, perfectly encapsulating a child facing adolescence, oppressed and controlled by both overt and covert acts of homophobia and, later, portraying his emotion in deeply resonant ways. Even if, at times, the script is slightly underdeveloped, the side characters not quite characterised enough, De Waele as Rémi and Émilie Dequenne as his mother thoroughly catch the eye, and the heart.
Possibly the most memorable moment lies when the pair race through the blissful dahlia fields of rural Belgium energised by the intimacy of childhood. It’s a scene pervaded by nostalgia, so authentic is the acting, so inspiring the cinematography. It’s surely this moment, both for Léo and the audience, that the mind flashes back to as the film unravels, as true innocence draws drastically away, and the same flowers are dead headed.
I was also profoundly touched by Dhont’s deeply personal, true to life script, implicitly highlighting the monster that is homophobia, and the spectacle of human emotion. It made me first question Léo’s actions, and then those of his classmates, and, ultimately, put the sword to internalised, deep wrought homophobia, and the possible consequences of such. Close doesn’t just critique the way heteronormativity affects those who are queer, it critiques the tearing down of anybody not totally conformist. It isn’t a film about queerness, as much as it’s a film about the fear of being an outsider: the cruel, out-of-character actions we commit to feel included, to feel accepted. A message universal both to the victims of childhood homophobia and those perpetuating it, however unintentionally. Dhont encourages his audience just to let others be, to accept that words are never just words and you can never tell of their impact.
Even days after seeing Close, I feel touched, contemplative. It’s testament to Dhont’s capability as a director that the film stays unwaveringly with you even long after it’s over. That even through subtitles, the audience is commanded to feel this film as though they themselves had lived it.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
In-article image courtesy of @closebylukasdhont via Instagram.com. No changes were made to this image.
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