Gustav De Waele and Eden Dambrine as Rémi and Léo
On my post Easter travels I was glad to reaquaint myself with The Midland Arts Centre (https://macbirmingham.co.uk/) – a place of regular visits over twenty years of living in Birmingham.Based in Canon Hill Park, Edgbaston and opposite the Warwickshire Cricket ground it was a happy place for walks, theatre, art and cinema. This time in their newly refurbished bar I encountered a new taste of Stirchley Ale ( https://atticbrewco.com/ ) brewed in Maryvale Road – an excellent pint of Signals IPA !
The reason was to see Close – a 2022 growing up and coming of age drama directed by Lukas Dhont. Set in rural Belgium the film is a co-production between Belgium, France and the Netherlands.
It portrays the connection and friendship between two boys with care and sensitivity. These years of trusting, playing, learning, wondering and negotiating family expectations will trigger memories for many of us. Few watching the friendship unfold will remain unmoved by the intensity and freedom of adolescence. There is a profound innocence to it all but also an intensity that is, perhaps, disturbing. This unselfconscious love and friendship is the focus of the unfolding drama which has a drama and complexity into which the viewer is drawn in.
The attentiveness to detail captures beauty and the pain of growing up. Rémi’s parents, Sophie and Peter, accept this without judgment and love Léo like a second child. Léo’s family helps run agricultural work at a flower farm, where Léo and Rémi also like to play together. The photography of the countryside and the vibrancy of the flowers sets a wider context and slower pace. The beauty of the place is set against some of the agonies of the narrative.
The boys spend many hours together playing and exercising. Remi has a wonderful musical talent and play the Oboe with great skill. We remember these friendships that helped us negotiate the adult world and its odd complexities.
There is misunderstanding and once the boys move into secondary school and some very hard interrogation. Classmates become aware of the intensity of their friendship. Girls – who are either honest or malicious, or just unsure – ask Léo if he and Rémi are a couple. With a malign and punishing insight they ask if Léo even “realises” it. There follows a struggle in both boys which has both a kind of innocence and violence to it. The audience is left to judge as the drama and tragedy unfolds.
Sophie (Émilie Dequenne) and Nathalie (Léa Drucker) play the mothers of the two boys with a sensitivity and power that set the tone of what one reviewer accurately describes as a ‘drenchingly sad’ story. They are pictured above with the boys.
Perhaps the best performance was the Charlie, Leos older brother, who allows his comforting love to land without a word of judgment or commentary.
There might be more to be said about the 104 minutes of this film but I have held back on some of the details. This is attachment and love through the hearts and lives of two adolescent boys. We might do well to learn from their innocence and carefree wonder of what is given both from within their innate goodness but also through the glory of those spring and summer days in rural Belgium. It is less a film about identity ( though it demands that we consider some of these human realities) and more an exploration of loss. The loss of friendship and the life we find in others and so trust them with our all. Perhaps no one ever recovers from such losses when they happen – we learn to carry them and use the experiences for good.
One concluding plea. This story shows us why we need to safeguard children by providing a learning environment that is honours, protects and enables acceptance and affirmation to land ! Any community should be committed to the holding of the complexity of human relating. In our functional and task driven lives we might pay a little more attention to others. This film is also a searing judgement on the consequences of our what happens when we leave fear and prejudice unchecked.
It is also a celebration of living life slowly and paying attention to each other – and especially those vulnerable parts of ourselves ( wherever and whatever they are) that need connection, unconditional love and an abiding friendship that can stand the test of time.