Close Review: A Devastating Look At The Loss Of Childhood Friendship [Cannes]

We've all been there — a friendship so intense you feel like you could be siblings. Lukas Dhont's "Close" tells the tender story of Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele), two friends who share that inseparable bond you only make as children. A subtle Belgian drama, "Close" tells the heart-wrenching story of losing that connection. Léo and Rémi are inseparable, whether chasing each other through fields of chrysanthemum or sharing quieter moments when Remi plays his oboe. They hang out together, go to school together, and share a bond like no other. So, it's heart-achingly sad when the boundaries of their irreplaceable friendship are tested.

In fact, the strains of growing up irreversibly shatter that bond completely. The boys' youthful innocence is torn away by adolescence — their school friends soon become confused by the closeness of Léo and Rémi. They're overly familiar in that child-like, innocent way, but they're 13 years old, and that sort of behavior is now considered a bit weird. When the girls ask Léo if the two are a couple, he seems hardly bothered. But the seed has been planted, causing him to think about how close the two really are. The boys soon chime in with some harsh insults and teasing, and it's enough to drive a wedge between these best of friends. Whether or not either boy is gay is immaterial, and never addressed.

But the breakdown of their friendship soon follows ... and it proves to be absolutely devastating.

A gut-wrenching study of loss

The damage to Léo and Rémi's friendship is long-lasting. Where once they were joyful, playful, and innocently physical, Léo now reels at his friend's very touch. "Close" is as much about the loss of innocence as it is the loss of childhood friendship, and sees Léo make more grown-up inferences about their closeness than he previously would have. Meanwhile, Rémi either doesn't understand or simply refuses to.

Either way, his loss is heart-breaking. Sleepovers at each other's homes were a regular occurrence, but now Léo recoils at the closeness they previously had. Sleeping on the floor, away from Rémi, he's horrified when he wakes up to find his friend has joined him there on the floor ... and retaliates with a fight that turns particularly sore. The friction between the two friends holds a particular sting after such close attention is paid to the subtleness of their relationship in the early scenes. Dhont's close camera work and deft hand when it comes to directing the boys give "Close" a uniquely empathic feel, and a wincing kind of dread when it all goes wrong.

Dhont really knows how to crank up the emotion, and soon grabs you by the throat with a revelation that will have you reeling. The real cleverness here is in how the story feels both heart-achingly sad and painfully real. "Close" is at its best when it avoids sentimental cliché and focuses on the resounding realism of two boys who are losing their best friends.

An irreversible moment of sadness

Essentially, Léo and Rémi's friendship is pushed beyond its limit. The two become almost like strangers, prompting Léo to take up new hobbies without his best friend, and even ignore him in the schoolyard. These gut-wrenching moments are sold entirely by the boys' performances.

Dambrine is the newcomer, starring in his first-ever feature film, but you wouldn't know it. The excruciating look of longing on his face, teased out by Dhont, is a look that will continue to haunt you long after the credits roll. Sure, he eagerly sprints through fields and plays tireless with his friend, but it's those quieter moments that make his performance sing – the quiet stillness a harsh reminder of what he's lost. De Waele almost matches this, but it's Dambrine's contrast that really sings – the irksome shudder of a boy who's growing up faster than his friend makes later scenes of regret even harder to swallow.

Dhont's focus shifts to a far more melancholy tone later in the film, which sees Léo struggling. But once the damage is done, it's all too late. Léo must live with the loss of his friend while trying to find the words to express his pain as he comes to terms with it all. "Close" is a story about growing up and losing those wondrous childhood relationships forever, but it's far more than that. It's a tender glimpse of loss on an unimaginable scale, told through the lens of a young boy trying to make sense of it all.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10

"Close" premiered as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2022.