“Imagine that you are a very small chicken. You just hatched. You just opened your eyes for the first time.”Léo
A heartbreaking look at adolescence and masculinity, Lukas Dhont’s second feature explores the relationship between two 13-year-old boys in the Belgian countryside as their inseparable childhood friendship is disrupted by starting a new school. Léo and Rémi’s tactile relationship draws comments from their peers, causing Léo to pull away and divert his focus to rough-and-tumble ice hockey. This simple depiction of the destructive power of societal expectation has wider consequences as Close unfolds, but Dhont’s direction is restrained, at its best when the camera lingers on an actor’s expression as they watch someone. Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele are both impressive in their first feature, particularly Dambrine’s depiction of Léo’s guilt over the loss of a friendship. What is more devastating is how isolating that pain becomes, reinforcing how early boys are denied the ability to expose vulnerability and seek support — one student claims only to cry through anger, not sadness. An explosive confrontation late in the film does not feel as natural as what came before, but nor does it detract from the film’s powerful effect. Indeed, Close ultimately provides a similar catharsis to the excellent Manchester By The Sea with its own character study in unresolved grief.