Close director Lukas Dhont on the buried wounds of male intimacy

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When Lukas Dhont finished reading Deep Secrets, psychologist Niobe Way’s insightful book about the pressure young boys feel to harden themselves as they grow up, the Belgian director was moved.

“I didn’t really realize why I was so emotional,” he told me last December in a sun-drenched room at New York’s Ritz Nomad Hotel. “But then I realized that I was very much in resonance with these [American] boys that I had never met. I grew up on the Flemish countryside, but I also started to fear intimacy very early on and started to distance myself from people I really didn’t want to take distance from. That’s a wound I buried somewhere, but that book made me reconnect to that wound.”

His “reconnection” eventually inspired the creation of Close, Dhont’s sophomore film, which follows two young boys, Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele), as their lifelong friendship begins to fracture. Like the book — which interviews boys over the course of their adolescence, opening with a spotlight on the loving way young 13-year-old boys talk about their friendships — the film begins idyllically, with Léo and Rémi unabashedly enjoying their innocent, inseparable bond.

But just as Way’s interviewees changed as they got older, with their answers gradually morphing in tone from vulnerable to stoic, the connection between the two boys slowly shifts as they age. When the pair start high school, their peers begin to question the nature of their friendship, forcing both boys to develop a self-consciousness that didn’t exist before. And while Léo branches outward as a result, trying his best to fit in with the young men around him, a despondent Rémi turns inward, slowly pulling away from everything until, finally, tragedy strikes.

Read on… (major spoilers for Close)

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