Belgian director Lukas Dhont has now demonstrated considerable cinematic skill with his first two films to worldwide acclaim. He has a masterly eye for finding the perfect composition and, perhaps more importantly, a knack for casting charismatic first-time actors. But as demonstrated in his Cannes Film Festival-winning drama Close, the filmmaker also knows how to capture an image overflowing with genuine emotion. On this side of the Atlantic, we might even call it a “snoot”.
“I think I always start with the heart. An experience, an expression that feels deeply personal to me,” says Dhont. “For example, struggling with a stereotype of what a little boy is like [is expected] Behaving is, I think, deeply personal to me. But then I also try to look for everything that makes it a shared experience. We’ve all been at that point where a friendship has broken our hearts, and often it’s linked to a romantic relationship, but not always friendship.”
Dhont’s second work, Close, which won the Grand Prix at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, revolves around Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav de Waele), two 13-year-old boys who are best friends. They spend the summer walking around Léo’s family flower farm and have a familial intimacy rarely found between boys in Western culture. It’s only when the two return to school that the teens’ social dynamic begins to tear at the bonds of their camaraderie. As Léo breaks new ground, Rémi finds himself increasingly overwhelmed with his best friend’s detachment.
“I was someone who really pushed people away, and I wanted to make a film that I consider a love letter to those people,” says Dhont. “I think the first image that came to me as I was writing and designing the typeface was the two boys running between flowers. I think it’s because we lived very close to a flower farm. It really has to do with my own childhood.”
Somehow, Dhont knew his second film would be about friendship, but it wasn’t until he read American psychologist Niobe Way’s Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection that he found inspiration. The non-fiction book is the result of hundreds of interviews with boys between the ages of 13 and 18. Through her research, Way discovered a striking difference in perspectives on feelings of friendship between adolescent boys and those closer to adulthood. While Léo and Rémi’s bond in the film struck a chord with many LGBTQ+ viewers, that wasn’t the prism that the publicly outed Dhont was ultimately intrigued by.
“When I read these testimonies from these 150 boys who aren’t necessarily queer, I realized that it would boil down to just having a queer experience,” says Dhont. “While it’s not just about a queer experience, it’s about the experience of young men, because young men aren’t given that space to express themselves in that way. It gives you, as an audience, a place to interpret that experience in any way you want. But it’s not about their sexuality, it’s about how their intimacy and their sensuality are viewed and how we are conditioned to view them. How we want to separate everyone into boxes and labels and how we want to put a stamp on that love and not just let that love exist in its true free form.”
Obviously, finding the two boys was crucial to telling this story. By a stroke of luck, Dhont met Dambrine on a train journey during which he was fascinated by the young man’s energy and intelligence. A 20-boy casting day followed, during which Dambrine and De Waele eventually became attracted to one another. After getting the roles, the two spent a year hanging out, but Dhont notes that he was really scared they were going to grow up too fast before filming began.
“We ate a lot of pancakes, a lot of cake, a lot of ice cream; After that I really had to do some sports,” says Dhont with a laugh. “But also the trust between us, the trust between us became really big. I think one thing I told you early on is that “Your emotions will not be used against you. It’s not about being perfect, it’s not about getting it right every take. It’s all about being and loving each other.’ I think we created that intimacy with the adult actors as well because they’re a part of it too.”
Dhont believes that despite their relatively young ages, both actors “recognize that something needs to change in the vocabulary that we create around men and masculinity.”
“I feel like they’re excited to be a part of this wave, even if it’s just a small part,” says Dhont. “They’re really changing because Gustav is a little bit more of a skater now. The last time he came in with his skateboard, I thought, ‘You’re growing up at a breakneck pace.’ I think Eden is someone who, in his life, has faced the fact that he is someone who is not considered a boy by many and has therefore grappled with this difficulty. He knows very well what is at stake and how important it is.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-11-29/lukas-dhont-close-masculinity-expectations ‘Close’ is a study of friendship and ideas of masculinity