Ambiguity can either deepen the themes and characters in a film or signal its slipshod writing and structure. Close (2022), directed by Lukas Dhont, is the former in that explores adolescent intimacy and possible queerness in a way that makes the viewer do the work.
Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustav De Waele) spend their summer before middle school doing everything together typical of 12-year-old boys: playing, riding their bikes around Belgium, and even sleeping over in the same bed. Leo is a little more athletic and social, while Remi is a little quieter and more musical. Both boys’ families seem supportive and laid back, not showing any sign of concern at their sons’ closeness.
This is a quiet movie that uses visuals to communicate so much plot and characterization. So many scenes pass by with nearly no dialogue and beautiful cinematography. All of the pivotal plot details are provided visually and often without any commentary.
Everything is idyllic during that summer, but things change once the boys begin middle school. Their closeness is instantly noticed by a group of girls at the school, who ask if they are a couple. The question doesn’t come off as rude or insulting, and the girls who ask eventually become friends with them. Leo, the more vocal of the two boys, answers by saying that they’re best friends, and that they do everything together. We see the two eat lunch together, and nap outside, with Remi laying his head on Leo’s stomach.
After two instances of name-calling and more stares, Leo seems to begin rethinking his relationship with Remi. The camera seems to have some distance on the drama, giving a detached feel to the movie. This leaves the viewer to work at inferring from subtle facial expressions and interactions what’s happening. Is Leo internalizing the insults and perceptions while questioning his orientation? Is he becoming uncomfortable with how intimate he is with Remi?
As is typical for any middle school-er, Leo starts to branch out and try new things. He joins the hockey team and begins hanging out with a different friend group. This leaves Remi often alone, talking to a few other girls or alone practicing his instrument. Leo further distances himself from Remi, even physically rejecting his friend. This drama continues to unfold without commentary, giving the film a documentary feel.
This distanced feel continues when a quietly devastating tragedy occurs off-screen. Both Leo and Remi’s families spend the remainder of the film dealing with this and asking all the expected questions. Did something happen between Leo and Remi? Were they actually gay or just 12-year-olds who didn’t have any issues with being physically and emotionally close with someone of the same sex? The ambiguity forces the viewer to sift through the dispassionately-presented events to decide for themselves.
This is Beglian filmmaker Dhent’s second feature, and it’s also semi-autobiographical, incorporating some of the filmmaker’s experiences growing up. His first feature, Girl, about a trans girl who tries to be a ballerina, received numerous nominations from various international film festivals. Close was nominated for the Best International Feature Film at this year’s Oscars.
The subtle performances lead to an intense, emotionally devastating climax that includes a looming threat of violence. Once the credits roll, you’ll be forced to work through what the film may be saying about intimacy, orientation, and labels. And you’ll most likely need some tissues.