Lukas Dhont’s Close quite literally follows the close relationship between two pre-adolescent boys and the consequences of an unapologetic intimacy. This heart-wrenching film explores questions of gender and sexuality, much like his 2018 film Girl, a film which tells the tale of a young male ballerina’s changing sexuality. In Close, Leo and Remi behave in a compassionate and delicate manner, setting them apart from the other macho boys that surround them at school.
The audience follows a precious relationship, reflected by the raw beauty of the Belgian countryside depicted in Frank Van den Eeden’s cinematography. The film begins in springtime, flowers are blossoming, and the two boys spend long summer evenings cycling through endless crop fields and lying in the long gentle grass. However, their simple reality soon shifts once they start school in the September. An air of uneasiness arises between the two boys, each nervous and unsure as to what the future brings. Those long summer nights quickly shorten and the bike rides home seem arduous. As the idyllic blue skies turn to grey, school life disrupts their equilibrium.
Photo by arbyreed via Flickr (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Nevertheless, their relationship is effortless relying on little speech. Instead, they communicate in a tactile and loving way. Once at school, this behaviour is quickly confronted by the judgement of the other kids. They are challenged by girls questioning their relationship, whispering and pointing fingers. While the audience wills them to remain unaffected by these silly accusations, it is not long before Leo becomes confused by his relationship with Remi.
They are clearly at odds with the other boys in the playground who all share typically masculine interests, discussing football teams and behaving violently. The pair shows that boys can be delicate and intimate too, ultimately leading to brutal isolation from their cohort. In the school playground, male intimacy is perceived as a threat to the other boys and girls, something simply misunderstood.
Close sheds light on the gender expectation placed on boys. Expectations to be violent, sporty, and emotionally disconnected in order to prove masculinity are disassembled through the intimate relationship of Leo and Remi. Unfortunately, Leo caves to the pressure and joins the fold. Unable to convey their emotions to one another, the pair suffer in silence. They seem so inherently connected that there is never a need to share words, but once Leo decides to create distance from Remi, this innate closeness is put in jeopardy, leaving neither aware of how to communicate. Words are seldom an option between the two boys, and we see an age of innocence that becomes excruciating to watch.
Close deals with difficult themes of male vulnerability, sensitivity, and machismo, with a tenderness that enables the director to deliver a social critique without berating the audience. It is also heart-wrenching to see the distance emerge between the two boys who had once been so close.
Edited by Barney Nuttall, Film and TV Deputy Editor