Cannes Film Festival – Deadline

Belgian Lukas Dhont takes a deserved step in competition at the Cannes Film Festival with close, only his second film – a minimalist melodrama that shows a marked growth in visual style but may confront some with its deliberately unhurried, Eric Rohmer-esque aesthetic. The international success of Dhont’s well-intentioned debut Daughterabout a young trans ballet dancer, has been somewhat blunted in the United States, where GLAAD has amplified complaints of misrepresentation on behalf of the trans lobby. close is a much safer proposition, but can still navigate choppy waters with its themes of youth suicide.

Most certainly drawn from his personal experience, it stars newcomer Eden Dambrine as Leo, a 13-year-old boy who lives in a rustic idyll with his best friend Rémi (Gustav De Waele). Leo’s family runs a flower farm, and flowers are a constant motif everywhere, whether they’re growing, blooming, threshed or picked and packaged. The two boys go wild in this bucolic wonderland until the first day at a new school arrives. Leo and Remi’s closeness is immediately noticed, but although the pair are teased, their classmates never resort to bullying.

Nonetheless, Leo is uncomfortable with the attention, and while Dhont’s film can certainly be read as a not-so-subtle allegory for the angst of being a young gay teenager (Dambrine is a spit on his director ), close is really a film about the loss of innocence and the putting away of childish things. Leo begins to drift away from Rémi, and after a playful fight that will take on a lot of importance later, he joins an ice hockey team. The camera never strays far from Leo, and after considerable time away from Remi, mostly on a school trip to the seaside, he returns to find his mother waiting for him with the new single. but devastating that Remi “isn’t here anymore”.

The drama that follows touches Xavier Dolan territory with its focus on mothers and in particular Remi’s mother, Sophie, played with overwhelming stillness by the return of Cannes heroine Emilie Dequenne (best actress in 1999 for the Palme d’or of the Dardenne brothers Rosette).

In keeping with the film’s theme of a boy on the threshold, we never know what happened to Remi – there are details scattered here and there – because adults are protective. There’s no why either, but Leo becomes convinced he’s the reason: the Judas who betrayed his friend.

Dhont’s child’s view can be a bit repetitive and isn’t particularly groundbreaking; indeed, some of the film’s school scenes are reminiscent of last year’s underrated Un Certain Regard title. Playground by fellow Belgian Laura Wandel. Likewise, the film’s constant internalization of such an emotional issue could alienate those who prefer their grief to be served up Mediterranean-style, like Nanni Moretti’s overcooked Cannes hit. The son’s room (although the school encourages his classmates to open up about their loss, Leo refuses to join in their superficial observations about a boy they barely knew).

But the film’s slowness will reward the patient in its final moments as we begin to realize that only Sophie can truly understand her loss and vice versa. But can they ever communicate this link? The resulting tension, expressed almost entirely physically in a very non-verbal film, sets things up for a highly emotional yet cathartic climax.

One of the strongest films to premiere in this year’s competition, close has huge rewards potential at all levels. Sad to say, he will need it; the Cannes laurels won’t do much, because, for such an intimate film, only the Palme d’Or really counts. East close the little movie that could? On the bright side, it could very well be.

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