Get ready to have your heart broken by out director Lukas Dhont’s “Close”

Get ready to have your heart broken by out director Lukas Dhont’s “Close”
Gustav De Waele and Eden Dambrine in Close. Photo: A24

After a whopping eight months of anticipation and one Oscar nomination, out Belgian director Lukas Dhont’s Close has finally been released in theaters.

The film, which scored an Academy Award nomination for Best International Feature earlier this week, examines issues of masculinity, friendship, intimacy, and homophobia via the story of two 13-year-old boys, Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele), whose uncommonly close friendship comes under scrutiny from their peers.

Close got rave reviews from critics after it premiered last May at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix, the festival’s second most prestigious award. The Hollywood Reporter’s Leslie Felperin called the film a “heart-crushing but emotionally rich story,” singing Dhont’s praises as a director, and declaring Dambrine’s performance “gob-smacking.”

Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson included the film in her list of the 15 unmissable movies to come out of Cannes. “Incredibly understated and finely realized, Close makes use of silence and nearly imperceptible facial expression,” she wrote, “exploring the kinds of emotions and desires that young teens often feel but rarely understand. It’s an elegant, beautiful, moving film.”

“There’s no doubting the force of this drenchingly sad story,” The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw wrote, while also fretting that Close would receive backlash for problematizing “unselfconscious love and friendship between two 13-year-old boys.” (Dhont’s 2018 film, Girl, was criticized for its depiction of gender dysmorphia and self-harm.)

It appears Bradshaw need not have worried. Critics have continued to laud the film ahead of its release. In his review for The New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote that he was less impressed by the film’s second half, but that its predictable shortcomings “can’t dispel the exquisite insight of its earlier scenes or the heart-rending precision of the performances.”

“‘Close’ is a crushing story of grief told with grace by Belgian director Lukas Dhont,” wrote Associated Press critic Lindsey Bahr, in a review that should probably come with a spoiler warning. Close, Bahr writes, “is also the type of film that younger people should see. Bullying and suicide and accidental cruelty happen in middle schools, and ‘Close’ is at least partially about the danger of not being able to talk about what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it.”

The LA Times’ Justin Chang called the film “a flawlessly acted, precision-tooled heartbreaker.” He praised the way Dhont hints at and then thoroughly dismantles the taboo evoked by Léo and Rémi’s friendship. “The best thing about ‘Close,’” Chang writes, “is its firm but gentle destigmatization of boyhood intimacy. Whether Léo and Rémi are going through an unusually intense phase of their friendship or experiencing the early adolescent stirrings of sexual desire — two equally plausible and hardly mutually exclusive possibilities — their bond deserves time, space and understanding, not judgment.”

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