A tale of two films
- Close review by PD
This beautifully evocative film centres on the intimate friendship shared by 13-year-old Belgian boys Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustav De Waele), and especially the responsibility that comes with it. Unfortunately it's really two films - impressively subtle and sensitive in the first half, offering us as pure a portrait of innocent, innocuous same-sex affection as we’ve ever encountered on film, before, after a tragic twist, becoming something altogether different and rather less engaging.
It’s worth celebrating the first 45 minutes of the film, which will resonate deeply with anyone, gay or straight, who’s ever found themselves adapting their behaviour according to the homophobia of others. The pain and vulnerability of coming of age is tenderly and convincingly depicted, the young performers both heartbreaking and revelatory in their sadness – it’s hard to broadcast such deep emotion without losing an ounce of credibility. Dambrine plays Leo with wondrous innocence, while De Waele’s performance as his best friend Rémi is full of pain and tenderness. Seldom apart, Leo and Remi seem to be joined at the hip; even their nights are spent sleeping over at one another’s houses, limbs entwined, whilst their parents treat both children as their own (Léa Drucker and Emilie Dequenne play Leo and Remi’s respective mothers, and both are terrific). Director Lukas Dhont and co-writer Angelo Tijssens present observational scenes of everyday life, revealing character through behaviour rather than expository dialogue; so much of their technique is subtext, which relies on us to play detective. And yet, deprived of certain clues, audiences will construct whatever idea of these two boys they want in their heads, filling in the blanks with some combination of lived experience and personal prejudice. Are Leo and Remi gay? Might one of them be, but not the other? (These are not irrelevant questions, even if the film stubbornly refuses to address them).
On the first day of a new school term, surrounded by an unfamiliar group of students, the boys cling to one another especially tight in class and during breaktime. In the cafeteria, a surprisingly forward girl puts the question to them, “Are you together?” and Leo tenses up, explaining that they’re just “close,” like brothers. It’s a life-changing moment for Leo and Remi, and though neither one fully realises it at the time, they have just experienced a key jolt of heteronormative socialisation. They’ve been told that their friendship is not normal, and no one wants to be different. Leo in particular is figuring out what it means to be a man in the modern world, and one of the codes by which he’s expected to live is to be mindful of his emotional and physical proximity to other guys.
And then the second half. Because the film goes out of its way to present the boys as pre-sexual, the sudden tragedy seems all the more unfair, and though Dhont handles the attendant mysteries as delicately as one could hope, it’s not a little exasperating to think this is where he wanted the story to go, because from this point, “Close” has become a completely different (and not nearly as powerful) film, and unfortunately young actor Dambrine is nowhere near practiced enough to project Leo’s thoughts. Sincere as it may be, this tragedy feels like a narrative device, designed to prove some kind of ideological point, when the film could have taken the (admittedly far harder) dramatic road of watching how these two boys navigate the newly discovered peer pressures. As it is, for me the plot twist weakens the film enormously. Nevertheless, well worth seeing and hopefully more to come from a hugely talented director.
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.
Superb Flemish/Belgian Film about Masculine Friendship with superb writing, acting, direction
- Close review by PV
This is a great film about male friendship. Very original and brave, in this hysterical age too ( this film could NOT have been made in the UK or USA).
It is so well-acted too - many cast are amateurs such as the two boys themselves who are perfect.
It is also well shot and looks beautiful, with colour schemes reflecting mood, especially of the flower-growing family, so lots of bright colours in summer becoming brown, earthy and dead and events occur.
Watch the two interviews with the director and his fellow writer on the EXTRAS. They are illuminating. About the casting especially and how much time was taken to do that and film through the seasons.
Personally, I'd say boys of that age 12/13 (year 7 or 8 UK schools) would tend not to behave like these do - certainly not my memories. Maybe younger boys, aged 8/9/10 who had a very close friend the same age, often with a power imbalance - one boy older/stronger/bolder. That is the age when children fantasise when playing too - that is all over by 12/13.
SO I am not sure I believe the story or the acceptance of two boys that age sharing a bed (having been a 12/13 year old boy, I know that would not have been seen as OK in the UK; maybe Belgium is different?). I remember such close male bonds at age 8/9/10 and then they slip away. By secondary school and puberty.
I was a bit annoyed the backstory of one boy and his mother was not explored more - no spoilers. Maybe it is meant to be vague, re bathroom door lock etc. A scene when one boy plays at a concert is central re his sensitive personality.
This could also be classed as a film exploring mental illness too. Some may say what occurs is a bit clunky and melodramatic, but not necessarily.
Some dreadful clunky subtitles at times - clearly NOT translated by a native English speaker into English - and they stick at one point. Why not get a native speaker to do them perfectly?
Anyway, as another reviewer says the first half is the strongest part of the movie. It can drag a little in the second half. A small criticism though.
Overall this is a great film and I enjoyed it way more than another recent film of 2 boys of 12/13 'ARMAGEDDON TIME' (3 stars).
One of the very best coming of age films ever. I watched it twice in 2 days.
4.5 stars rounded up.
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.
Brim-full of emotion and repays careful exploration of own thoughts
- Close review by TD
The too-perfect pre-adolescent relationship between Léo and Rémi in this film gives the feeling that something has to go wrong, and indeed there follow sad happenings leading to the abrupt change in mood that other reviewers have commented upon.
Eden Dambrine, with his angelic face and quite stunning eyes, is an acting force to be reckoned with as the lead part of Léo. Fortunately, in increasingly difficult circumstances, Léo is surrounded largely by kind and caring friends, family and teachers, including his new ice-hockey playing friend and a supportive older brother. The developments in his relationship with Rémi’s mother are interesting too. I sat through the film willing him to cry.
I leave it to future viewers to decide whether either Léo or Rémi is gay, and an important quality of the film is that it credits its viewers with the intelligence to work this out for themselves.
As another reviewer has said, it is well worth watching the extras as the casting process is a fascinating story in its own right.
0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.