by George Wolf
Belgium’s Close is one of two current Oscar nominees for Best International Film (along with Ireland’s The Quiet Girl) to draw its emotional power from the sensational debut performance of a teenager.
Director and co-writer Lukas Dhont met young Eden Dambrine on a train ride, ultimately offering him an audition after watching his facial expressions from a few seats away.
Dhont’s instincts were spot on. Dambrine proves a natural at communicating complex emotions with understated effort, propelling the film’s tender and sweetly heartbreaking take on friendship and innocence lost.
Thirteen year-olds Léo (Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele) are best friends with a wonderfully expressive and joyous bond. But their first year in a different school brings whispers from new peers, leading to a disruption in the boys’ relationship. Slowly, Léo begins reaching out to Rémi’s mother Sophie (Émilie Dequenne), in hopes of reconciling his mix of feelings.
There is no shortage of films reflecting on the years when two young friends begin to explore different paths. Dhont reinforces that theme with subtle details, such as when the boys choose different routes on a bike ride home. But Dhont is also interested in how the path to adulthood has changed, and how today’s young people must often grapple with emotional questions that should never be asked of them.
And as heartbreaking as the film can be, it’s careful to retain a sense of tenderness. From bathing Léo in a field of golden flowers, to the patience with which Sophie waits for Léo to include her in what he’s feeling, Dhont’s second feature displays an assured command of tone. Sad but never maudlin, telling an intimate story with universal resonance, Close becomes a small miracle of healing.