Lukas Dhont seems like the kind of person who kept a journal, as soon as he could write, throughout childhood and into adulthood. His grasp of both the pain and exhilaration of the formative years of junior high and high school is near total, down to every delicate detail.
The Belgian filmmaker’s latest sharply observed, heartbreaking masterpiece is “Close,” which describes the relationship between two 13-year-old boys about to enter high school. The film, which was a co-winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Prix last year, is one of five nominated for the 2023 best international feature film Oscar.
Set between the lovely backdrop of the dahlia fields of Leo’s family farm and the concrete jungle of their consolidated school, Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustav De Waele) are inseparable. While they clearly have feelings for each other, “Close” begins as a tale of innocence and beauty — until it becomes something else.
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That something else, which will not be revealed, shifts the direction of the story and its characters, so let’s focus on the beginning: Leo and Remi are free-range children, at their happiest while living something of a Tom Sawyer-Huck Finn existence during the summer, with the approval of their parents (they often sleep at each other’s houses). Especially cool is Remi’s mother, Sophie (Émilie Dequenne), who treats them like adults.
When school starts, Leo and Remi get their first taste of prejudice among their classmates, some of them bullies. While their relationship is platonic, their friendship is tested. Remi doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, his world revolves around Leo. But Leo’s world is broadening, slightly. He has interests — such as playing on the hockey team — where fitting in might be a successful strategy.
The plot twist in “Close” has divided critics. It becomes a much tougher film. A good general philosophy might be to pay attention to the film the director actually makes, as opposed to the film that some might wish was made.
Anyone familiar with Dhont’s 2018 feature debut, “Girl” (currently streaming on Netflix), about a transgender girl who trains to be a ballerina, shouldn’t be surprised by some of the choices the director made in “Close.”
To watch “Close” is to be fully immersed in its finely detailed world suggested by Dhont and co-writer Angelo Tijssens; realized by Dhont and cinematographer Frank van den Eeden; and brought to life by the exquisite performances of its top-notch cast, led by Dambrine, DeWaele, Dequenne and — as Leo’s mother — Léa Drucker.
As its accolades suggest, it is one of the best films of 2022.
N“Close”: Drama. Starring Eden Dambrine, Gustav De Waele, Émilie Dequenne and Léa Drucker. Directed by Lukas Dhont. (PG-13. 105 minutes.) Starts Friday, Feb. 3, at AMC Metreon, 135 Fourth St., S.F. amctheatres.com; and Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, 2550 Mission St., S.F. drafthouse.com/sf
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Review: Oscar-nominated ‘Close’ is one of the best movies of 2022
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