“Close”, the poison of masculinity

Close **

by Lukas Dhont

Belgian film, 1 h 45

His first movie, Girl, the story of a young boy dreaming of being a star dancer, left the Cannes Film Festival in 2018 with the Camera d’Or, a reward for the best first film. The young Belgian director, 27 years old at the time, evoked the difficulty of asserting his identity in relation to the norm as well as the internal fight of his character against his own body. The delicacy of his subject, the naturalism of the staging and the nervous tension that irrigated the whole film had earned him unanimous praise from the press.

With close, Lukas Dhont digs the same furrow, although in a very different style, and signs a flamboyant drama around the friendship of two teenagers, distinguished once again at Cannes – a grand prize shared with Stars at Noon by Claire Denis – and which earned him a little hasty labeling as the Belgian Xavier Dolan. He stages through a fiction his own painful memories of school and his difficulty in being himself at an age, he explains, when boys and girls are expected to behave differently.

It is this “poison” of masculinity that will end up alienating Léo and Rémi. Inseparable since childhood, the two boys who live in the countryside share an intimacy and a tender complicity that their childhood innocence devoid of any ambiguity. Until the gaze of others, when they enter college, makes Leo realize what is disturbing about such closeness in the eyes of others. To conform to the pressure of the group, Léo will push Rémi away and make an assault on virility by playing football at recess with his new friends and by practicing ice hockey diligently.

An impeccable cast

Until the violence of this breakup, which will lead Rémi to the worst extremity, weighs on Léo the weight of lies and guilt. In the golden light of the Belgian countryside in summer, the lyricism of the director’s staging, seductive at first, with his cycling trips on deserted roads and fields of flowers as far as the eye can see, ends up turning into tearful melodrama.

And the words of the director, whose infinite delicacy we find in describing the relationship between these two boys, in being judgmental in a last part that is too strong. Fortunately, the film can count on an impeccable cast, from the two young actors (Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele) to the adults, including the very moving Émilie Dequenne.

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