Reel Life: Lukas Dhont’s 'Close' is an attempt to claim one's deeper self

It’s middle of the year and officially pride month in India. As luck would have it, ‘Close’ is my favourite film of the year so far

Reel Life: Lukas Dhont’s 'Close' is an attempt to claim one's deeper self

Namrata Joshi

There is a hell of a lot of beauty in Lukas Dhont’s Close. It imbues the faces of its two protagonists, Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustav de Waele), who look like comely angels transplanted on the screen from Renaissance paintings.

It’s in the delicacy with which Frank van den Eeden’s camera glides, pauses and lingers and caresses them. It’s in the idyllic nature where they frolic, in the allure of the expansive meadows and vibrant flower fields against which they are framed. It’s in the eternal cycle of seasons.

Beauty in Close is not just in the perceptible but also the abstract. In the innocence and winsomeness of their friendship, how they hold each other in the eyes, how they mean so much to each other without ever realising it. It’s as much in companionship as in forlornness, in proximities as well as distances, in unconditional love as well as unbridled anger.

In Dhont’s cinematic universe beauty inevitably permeates everything. His debut Girl won the Camera D’Or for the best first feature film at Cannes 2018. It was about a trans girl’s aspirations to become a ballerina even as the boy’s body she was born with throws practical challenges in fulfilling her dream.

Dhont’s follow up to it, Close, also treads on the issues of gender, identity and sexuality with characteristic fluidity, flair, and finesse. It won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year. The confrontations here, however, are of another kind—about transformations in the buddy spirit, in your ties with a dear friend that have a deep impact in shaping you.

At one level Close is about the first experience of mortality and reconciliation with it— the anger, resentment for someone close to you who chose to leave and the poignant concern that he, hopefully, didn’t suffer in the last few minutes; living with the guilt of having precipitated the departure and the resultant overwhelming, unexpressed grief that comes to weigh life down.

Close, in that sense, is in the same experiential zone—a journey to atonement like Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours Blue and even more so, our very own, Umesh Kulkarni’s Marathi film, Vihir.

However, more than the demise of an individual, it is about the exploration of the passing of a friendship. The distance, divide and rupture and the breaks and betrayals. Appropriately so, in a press meet after winning the award, Dhont dedicated it to “friendships lost in the course of time”.

“I have paid tribute to friends I’d lost touch with, by my own doing because I kept my distance and felt as if I’d betrayed them,” he said in an interview. It’s about how joys and intimacy of boy bonding turn unruly with the approach of adolescence and the disarray and confusion that get hatched by the accompanying new desires. It is about intimations of queerness amid expectations of masculinity. How you are drawn to yet want to run away from a person and, in the process, push him away into an abyss of his own. Closure for the loss lies in a simple confession and the painful admission: that you miss him.

Close is about Dhont himself. He is both Leo and Remi of his movie and has often spoken about his desire to make intimate, personal films on issues of identity and gender that had been unsettling for him as a child and a teenager. The obsession with how the crowd perceives you; the urge to belong, blend in and get accepted. And in the process, often disregarding or consciously denying an essential part of who you are.

Dhont recalled the pain of school days in an interview: “The boys behaved one way, the girls another, and I always felt like I didn’t belong in any one group. I started to get nervous about the friendships I had, especially with the boys, because I was effeminate and there was a lot of teasing going on. Having a close relationship with another boy only seemed to confirm the assumptions others had about my sexual identity.” Close in that sense is about the attempt to claim your deeper self for yourself.

It’s powered by deeply moving performances by the entire cast, especially Emilie Dequennethe as Sophie, mourning her son even while participating in the grief of his close friend. And then there are the two boy wonders—Dambrine and de Waele—supremely expressive individually just as they are striking together, conveying fleeting, knotty emotions, in all their nuance and depth, with the ease of veterans.

Close is artistically ambitious. Like a cinematic symphony, a musical piece in perfect harmony, not a note out of place. It’s middle of the year and officially pride month in India. As luck would have it Close is my favourite film of the year so far. Do look out for it to come to a theatre near you.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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