Review by Sean Boelman
Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont’s first film, Girl, received several awards but was somewhat controversial due to its approach to its LGBTQIA+ themes. These themes take the backseat in his second movie, Close, a powerful and affecting melodrama that will leave very few viewers with a dry eye.
The film follows two thirteen-year-old boys whose close friendship suddenly falls apart when they begin to face bullying and peer pressure. This is a movie whose success fundamentally hinges on one pivotal moment, but it is staggeringly well-executed in a way that is thoroughly powerful.
People like to describe many films as devastating, but one would be hard pressed to find a movie as downright soul-crushing as Close. The argument could be made that the film is emotionally manipulative and aims for low-hanging fruit, but there is one moment that is so undeniably distressing that it will almost certainly leave viewers distraught.
Admittedly, the way in which the movie explores its queer themes leaves something to be desired. While it poses some fascinating questions about heteronormativity, it isn’t doesn’t really interrogate its supporting characters as deeply as it should. Although these themes aren’t necessarily the central aspect of the story, it’s frustrating to see them as an afterthought.
That being said, Dhont and his co-writer Angelo Tijssens’s character work for the protagonist is absolutely masterful. He does some things that are frustrating and unlikable, but the film manages to present them in a way that never puts you against him. It’s a very nuanced, introspective approach to this story that easily could have veered into melodrama.
Young actor Eden Dambrine does an extraordinary job in his leading role. This is his first performance ever, yet he brings so much emotion and tenderness to the character that it is awe-inspiring. Gustave de Waele is also very solid, but Dambrine is so fantastic that he acts circles around de Waele.
The movie is also extraordinarily well-shot. Although the script is strong enough to speak for itself, beautiful cinematography by Frank van den Eeden and a lovely score by Valentin Hadjadj make it even more heartbreaking, and keep it from leaning too heavily into its occasionally histrionic leanings.
Lukas Dhont has managed to capture lightning in a bottle with his second feature, Close. Despite the several opportunities it had to go wrong, the tenderly-written script and strong execution allow it to be quite affecting.
Close hits theaters on January 27.