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Film Review: 'Close' examines adolescent friendship in all it's purity and complexity

 In a scene from the movie 'Close,' Gustav De Waele and Eden Dambrine pick white dahlia flowers in the field at sunset.
Courtesy of A24

The early moments of Lukas Dhont’s 'Close' radiate with the urgency of Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele) hard at play. They whisper about hiding from 80 imaginary enemies lurking in a dark old barn of Leo’s family flower farm and they devise their plans for escape. Suddenly, they break into sunlight, run through a forest and past a field of vibrant pink, yellow and orange flowers and end the chase lying in the grass and laughing with Rémi’s mother and dog. Their lives feel ecstatic.

Rémi plays the oboe and Leo loves it. In the way of 13-year-old boys, the pair can’t imagine that their lives won’t always be like this. At school, where the boys are together constantly, they catch each other’s eyes in class, and understand each other so well they don’t have to speak their thoughts. But such perfect idylls don’t last. Their intimacy is too much for some of their friends at school. A girl asks if they’re a couple.

 In a scene from 'Close,' Gustav De Waele and Eden Dambrine are sitting very closely  with their arms crossed as they listen to someone out of the frame. They are in a classroom at school.
Courtesy of A24

Rémi stays silent, but Leo is defensive, and the girls’ self-conscious giggly comments get to him. Soon, a boy will call out a hostile slur, which makes Leo distance himself from Rémi. It’s a disaster for Rémi, who’s more obviously sensitive than Leo – and the rest of the film is about the repercussions of the split. It feels as if paradise has shattered.

Many people read the boys’ connection as gay. At the Cannes Film Festivallast May, 'Close' won the festival’s Grand Prize, and was nominated for the Queer Palm. Other characters, in their early adolescent way, think the boys are gay. I’m not sure the film shares that conclusion. It’s one kind of movie, if you see the boys beginning a gay relationship, but it may be a more interesting and richer film, if you see it as a picture of how our contemporary highly sexualized society reacts to a profound friendship between Rémi and Leo. That’s a more imaginative movie, and less predictable.

This is an image of two boys and a mother lying on grass. The image is shot from above and features the actors from the movie 'Close.'
Courtesy of A24

The movie makes no predictions about the two friends. For a moment, it allows Leo and Rémi the freedom of not being classified. Maybe in some imaginary future they will become sexual, but in the present moment of this movie, the need to define them destroys the friendship and the characters.

This is an image of the actors Gustav De Waele and Eden Dambrine running in a field alongside a tractor. This is a scene from the film 'Close.' The scene is slightly blurry to give the feeling of motion.
Courtesy of A24

Where I think the movie goes off track is in its visual style. Director Lukas Dhont films with that overused tight hand-held camera that makes the picture feel like it has vertigo. The camera shakes and darts and turns the action into a blur. There’s no coherent space for the boys to move about; it’s all jangly and dismembered. Maybe 13-year-old boys are this jumpy and incoherent, but simply imitating their emotional chaos is not enough for a movie that runs close to two hours. There’s no chance to see context, no moments to consider what’s going on.

Big sections of 'Close' just push out jolts of sensation. Over time that wears thin, and the film leaves you with unexamined sadness – and that’s not enough either. The story demands some coherence, some depth of understanding. Over two hundred years ago, the British Romantic poet William Wordsworth wrote that poetry was the result of the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling” – but recollected in tranquility.

'Close' offers plenty of “spontaneous overflow,” but it’s forgotten to let the audience have some tranquil recollecting.

The movie has won a host of awards in Europe and the United States, and is one of the five nominees for best foreign language film at next month’s Oscar awards.

This film is currently showing at a few select theaters in the Denver area and Fort Collins.

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.
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