Review: 'Close' Shows the Dangers of Homophobia

by Megan Kearns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday January 27, 2023


Childhood best friends can anchor and uplift us, providing joy and nurturing support. "Close" examines the intimacy of friendship and how homophobia and toxic masculinity can cause a metamorphic rift between two friends.

Written and directed by gay director Lukas Dhont, and co-written by Angelo Tijssens, "Close" is a subtle, restrained coming-of-age film. Premiering at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, it won the Grand Jury Prize, sharing the award with Claire Denis's "Stars at Noon." "Close" is Belgium's Academy Awards submission for Best International Feature Film.

Two 13-year-old boys — Léo (Eden Dembrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele) — are best friends. Sharing a deep bond, Léo frequently sleeps over Rémi's house, helping Remi fall asleep by telling him stories. A shot of them sleeping side by side conveys their close connection physically and emotionally.

In class, Léo gingerly rests his head on Rémi's shoulder. A female classmate asks if they're a couple — a refreshing question to see on screen, with most films rooted in heteronormativity. Girls say it's "obvious" because of their body language, as they sit close together. Léo says they're just best friends and they don't hold hands or kiss. While Rémi remains quiet, Léo seems somewhat defensive and irritated.

Later, at recess, Léo lies on the grass and Rémi rests his head on Léo's stomach. Clearly self-conscious and worried about what others think, Léo rolls away from Rémi. He would never have done so before his classmates' questions and comments. Léo pulling away from Rémi conveys how toxic masculinity and homophobia infiltrate boys' and men's lives and fester.

Léo joins the hockey team. He's annoyed when Rémi watches him at hockey practice. Léo used to support Rémi, who plays the oboe, by attending his concerts. It's sad, because Rémi just wants to be close with his friend. When he suggests that maybe he'll join the hockey team too, Léo rebuffs his comment.

Léo is changing; he wants to exhibit stereotypically masculine behavior and be accepted by other boys. At a sleepover, Léo becomes physically aggressive with Rémi, who then locks himself in the bathroom and cries. Léo's toxic behavior remains a jarring juxtaposition to his previous tenderness.

Early in "Close," Léo and Rémi run side by-side through a gorgeous field of flowers; the smoothness of the dolly shot evokes jubilant freedom. The film continually shows them biking together in sync, until Rémi pulls ahead in one scene. Later in the film, chaotic and jumpy handheld shots contrast with the previously smooth cinematography. These changes mirror grief and the fracture in Léo and Rémi's friendship.

Where did Léo learn and internalize homophobia? His parents appear open and accepting. While some classmates exhibit toxic behaviors, we see other inclusive classmates challenge prejudices. "Close" misses an opportunity to delve into that question.

I found the first half of "Close" riveting. But after a tragedy occurs, the second half of the film — while retaining its subtlety and striking visuals — doesn't equal the beauty and strength of the first half, as it feels adrift and somewhat manipulative, and fizzles out.

Winning the Queer Palm at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Dhont's first film, "Girl," follows a trans girl ballerina. Unfortunately, it stars a cis man in the lead role, rather than a trans actress. Dhont defended his "right" to tell the story. At a gender equality panel at the 2018 European Film Awards, Dhont said it was "offensive" and reductionist to be labelled a "cis" director. Dhont's transphobic stance on not casting trans actors in trans roles combined with his defensive reaction to valid criticism shifts my perspective on "Close," tainting my enjoyment.

"Close" offers no clear-cut resolutions. The film poignantly conveys the power of friendship and the insidious dangers of homophobia, toxic masculinity, and compulsive heteronormativity.

"Close" opens in theaters on Friday, January 27, 2023.