If you’re looking to have a good cry this week, then consider watching Close (2022). Lukas Dhont is a Belgian director who previously made a name for himself with his debut feature film Girl in 2018. Close represented Belgium in its nomination for the 95th annual Oscars as Best Feature Film, and won the Grand Prix in Cannes in 2022. Dhont’s talent for visual storytelling prioritises his characters’ behaviours and relationships over dialogue without sacrificing the film’s plot – a balance not many achieve.
“Close” gives us insight into the unconventionally intimate friendship of Léo and Rémi, two 13 year old Belgian boys. The boys spend their every spare moment together: playing in forts, racing through beautiful flower fields, eating at each other’s houses, cycling around together, and having sleepovers – where they sleep on the same mattress, limbs intertwined. The film doesn’t clarify whether either of the boys have romantic feelings for one another, but this is the very point Lukas Dhont is trying to make: the sense of belonging, innocence, and understanding they share with each other overrides the question of labelling their friendship.
Dhont’s talent for visual storytelling prioritises his characters’ behaviours and relationships over dialogue without sacrificing the film’s plot – a balance not many achieve.
When Léo and Rémi go to their new secondary school, however, a group of girls in the cafeteria ask them whether they are “together”, insinuating that they have romantic feelings for one another. Rémi, who is more introverted, doesn’t really give an answer to the question and seems rather unbothered by it. Léo, on the other hand, who becomes desperate to fit in at his new school, reacts defensively and upset. He says that they are simply “close, like brothers”, but gets embarrassed by Rémi’s public displays of affection from that moment on, and begins to actively avoid him.
Léo takes up ice hockey with a boy in his class in order to spend time away from Rémi, for example, and no longer wants to play pretend games when he and Rémi hang out in their fort. He still goes to dinner at his house but no longer wants to sleep on the same mattress as him. When Léo eventually cycles to school with his new friends one morning, leaving Rémi to wait for him confusedly, they have a fight at school. Rémi feels betrayed and hurt as he doesn’t understand why his best friend no longer wants to hang out with him. The change in Léo’s behaviour causes a rift in their friendship which makes them grow apart, and eventually leads to a tragedy that changes their story forever.
Although Dhont’s ability to make his audience fall entirely in love with his characters is unmatched, it is the way he portrays Belgium that is especially noteworthy. Whilst the language border that runs between Flanders (Flemish speaking Belgium) and Wallonia (French speaking Belgium) can sometimes lead to social and political tensions, Dhont shows the beauty and uniqueness of our multilingual country in his films. The boys switch between French when they are alone, and Flemish in a school environment throughout the entire film- which is a very normal reality for many Belgians.
Although Dhont’s ability to make his audience fall entirely in love with his characters is unmatched, it is the way he portrays Belgium that is especially noteworthy.
As a Belgian myself, I really enjoyed this film. Belgium’s countryside looks absolutely beautiful, the characters felt incredibly real, and the effortless switching between languages gave me a new appreciation for my country. Even for non-Belgians, I can promise you that Léo and Rémi will stay with you for weeks after you’ve finished the film, and that their story will speak to you in a way you didn’t know was possible.