'Close' review: An adolescent friendship fractures The social forces are pervasive but subtle in Lukas Dhont's Close — no overt bullying or homophobia, just internalized pressures on still-developing psyches.


Movie Reviews

An adolescent friendship fractures in the Belgian Oscar hopeful, 'Close'

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The Belgian film "Close" is the story of a teen friendship that took home the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Critic Bob Mondello says he is not surprised to see it nominated for Best International Feature at this year's Academy Awards.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Rambunctious, grinning, skinny 13-year-olds Leo and Remi have been pals forever, it seems, as they enjoy their last carefree summer after middle school...


EDEN DAMBRINE: (As Leo, speaking French).

MONDELLO: ...Inventing war stories, racing through acres of dahlias in the commercial flower fields owned by Leo's parents, using each other as pillows while sunning in the grass. They are so close they might almost be brothers. You see it in Leo's adoring gaze as Remi practices oboe and in Remi's easy laugh when Leo shows him a terrible portrait he's sketched.


MONDELLO: If there's more to their feelings for each other, they don't seem to have considered it until they start classes at a new school and some girls note their closeness and ask if they're together - a couple.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, speaking French).

DAMBRINE: (As Leo, speaking French).

MONDELLO: Why would you ask that, wonders Leo. We're just pals. But something about the raising of the question spooks him. He starts talking sports rather than music, hanging out with members of the hockey team, sitting a little further apart when he's with Remi, who notes the change and goes quiet - until one day in the schoolyard, with shoves and tears, he's not quiet.


DAMBRINE: (As Leo, speaking French).

MONDELLO: Belgian writer-director Lukas Dhont makes the social forces here pervasive, but subtle - no overt bullying or homophobia, just internalized pressures on still-developing psyches. The boys, especially Eden Dambrine, a remarkable discovery who plays Leo, are flummoxed by this new social landscape, where intimacy that's always been OK suddenly isn't - where Leo can hug his older brother at school, say, but not his best friend, at least not without disapproving looks. The boys' slow separation is heartbreaking, and then a sudden, horrific tragedy makes it so much worse.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Leo. Leo...

MONDELLO: Filmmaker Dhont is now two for two. His first film, "Girl," about a trans teenager studying to be a ballerina, also caused a commotion at Cannes and also proved the director could get delicately nuanced performances from young actors. "Close" uses the nuance to uncover broader social implications in an adolescent tale of friendship and loss so quietly observed, it could almost be a documentary. As for the emotional impact? With tears flowing freely at the screening I attended, were hardened critic types able to stay dry-eyed? Not even close. I'm Bob Mondello.


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