The Independent

Corruption of innocence




Is there anything sadder in a boy’s life than the moment they realise they have to become men? You often see it play out in real time, where a kind of free-wheeling innocence becomes corrupted by essentiali­st ideas of what a man needs to be. Sports are a must. Sensitivit­y is a problem. Touch another boy by all

means, but only if it’s a macho thwack or a hearty backslap. Anything else is suspect.

Lukas Dhont’s Belgian drama Close – a Best Internatio­nal Film nominee at this month’s Oscars – makes great hay of these moments. We see 13-year-old Leo (Eden Dambrine) pushing away the head of his best friend Remi (Gustav De Waele), who’s resting it lazily on his chest. We see their sharing of a bed at sleepovers suddenly become loaded with meaning, so Leo sleeps elsewhere. We see the panic that appears in Leo’s eyes when a squad of girls ask him if he and Rémi are a couple.

Leo and Remi aren’t a couple in any traditiona­l sense of the word. Sexuality hasn’t – as far as we know – been a factor in their relationsh­ip until their peers suggest it is. But when others start to project onto them, insisting there’s something unusual about their physical and emotional intimacy, it creates a fissure between both boys. Lo grows distant. Rémi is left confused and bereft.

There is a brutal honesty to these early scenes in Close, which are played with heartbreak­ing subtlety. We tend to think of homophobia in its broadest strokes – protest signs, institutio­nal cruelty, the alt-right at drag shows. But it also needles its way into the quietest of places, distorting our perception­s of things both simple and entirely meaningles­s. For Leo, merely standing near Remi for a substantia­l period of time begins to set the cogs turning.

Sadly, Close starts to paint in broader strokes as it goes on. There is a hard turn at its midpoint that feels coldly calculated, and it’s something the film never quite recovers from. Dhont’s visuals are strong and sumptuous and he coaxes spellbindi­ngly naturalist­ic performanc­es from first-time actors Dambrine and De Waele, but a gulf in tone separates both halves of his film. Hushed glances between estranged friends give way to maximalist drama and heavy-handed symbolism, as if the everyday horror of growing up needs literal horror to be cinematic. Adam White

Dir: Lukas Dhont. Starring: Eden Dambrine, Gustav De Waele, Emilie Dequenne, Lea Drucker, Kevin Janssens. 12A, 104 minutes

‘Close’ is in cinemas

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 ?? (Mubi/A24) ?? First - time actors Gustav De Wae l e and Eden Dambrine de l iver spe ll binding l y natura l istic performanc­es
(Mubi/A24) First - time actors Gustav De Wae l e and Eden Dambrine de l iver spe ll binding l y natura l istic performanc­es
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