Thursday, February 16, 2023

When boyhood meets adolescence


 In the Oscar-nominated Close (best international feature), Belgian director Lukas Dhont brings timely concerns about masculinity to a story focused on two boys whose friendship is challenged by the onset of adolescence. 
  The more artistic of the two, Remi (Gustave De Waele) is an accomplished oboe player with a well-developed imagination. More grounded, Leo (Eden Dambrine) still feels closely bonded to his friend. 
  As it must, though, the innocence of boyhood will fade.
  When a group of girls at school suggests that Remi and Leo might be "together," Leo and Remi are confronted with a view of themselves neither had anticipated. They see themselves as inseparable and ascribe nothing else to it.
   In response to the beginnings of peer pressure, Leo pulls away from Remi, opting to play hockey and spend more schoolyard time with other boys. He wants to be one of the guys. He may not admit it but he doesn't want to be thought of as gay.
   About midway through, Dhont puts aside the Edenic tone that marks the film's early going. He begins to explore issues of grief and guilt associated with a tragic development that can't be revealed without spoilers. 
    Dhont keeps his camera close to the boys, notably Dambrine who has the larger role and who carries the movie on his young shoulders.
     Among the supporting performances, Emile Dequenne (as Remi's mother) and Lea Drucker (as Leo's mom) do standout work. 
     With Close, Dhont joins the ranks of filmmakers who have obtained disarmingly natural performances from young actors, always something at which to marvel.
     It may be a minor point, but I found it interesting that the hockey-playing kids aren't vilified or turned into budding macho sadists. They're just kids playing a game they love.
   Close strives -- and often succeeds -- to bring sensitive and careful observation to a story about two boys at a crossroads that's difficult to navigate and he does it with sensitivity and respect for his characters.

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