Léo (Eden Dambine) and Rémy (Gustav De Waele) have been friends for as long as they can remember. At the grand old age of age of thirteen they are pretty much inseparable, riding their bikes side-by-side through the lush Belgian countryside and enjoying adventures conjured from their combined imaginations. Léo’s parents are market gardeners, who work almost around the clock, planting, growing and harvesting fields of beautiful flowers. Léo often spends his nights at Remy’s house. His parents, Sophie (Émilie Dequenne) and Peter (Kevin Janssens), are always welcoming and Léo thinks nothing of sharing a bed with Rémy, or of telling him his deepest, darkest secrets.
But everything changes when the boys start high school. A casual question from a girl – ‘are you two a couple?’ – prompts Léo to reassess the friendship. Eager to fit in with his classmates, he begins to put up barriers between himself and Rémy, making a determined effort to distance himself and, as if to emphasise his masculine side, even joining the school’s rough and tumble ice hockey team. When Rémy considers following suit, Léo bluntly dissuades him.
These actions cause an ever-widening rift between the boys – one that has tragic consequences.
Directer Lucas Dhont (who co-wrote the screenplay with Angelo Tijssens) crafts a simple but deeply affecting narrative that unfolds across a year’s changing seasons. He coaxes extraordinary performances from his two young leads – particularly from Dambine, who features in just about every scene and whose angelic face seems able to fleetingly portray a whole host of conflicting emotions. He’s also able to convey Léo’s total inability to articulate his regret – and his desperate attempts to reconnect with Sophie are the stuff of tragedy.
Valentin Hadjadje’s mournful score accentuates the mounting sorrow, while Frank van den Eeden’s languorous cinematography bathes the whole enterprise in the warm, golden glow of childhood. The final sequences of Close are deeply compelling and – it must be said – utterly heartbreaking. It’s only as the end credits roll that the enormity of what’s happened fully hits home.
This is a powerful and evocative portrayal of growing up, and the complexities of male friendship. Catch it on the big screen if you can – and prepare to be devastated.
4. 6 stars