Lukas Dhont’s tender boyhood drama ‘Close’ stirs Cannes

CANNES, France (AP) — Lukas Dhont’s sensitive coming-of-age film “Close,” about the tender friendship of two 13-year-old boys whose bond is tragically separated, has provided a late, emotional wallop at the Cannes Film Festival.

“Close,” the Belgian director’s second film after his controversy-generating debut “Girl,” has emerged as one of the standouts at Cannes, and one of the most poignant. While heartbreak in film is usually expressed through romantic relationships, Dhont’s movie traces the painful fallout of two exceptionally close boys who drift apart when their intimacy is ridiculed.

“It comes from deep within,” Dhont said in an interview on a balcony in Cannes a few days before the Thursday premiere of “Close.” “When I was young because of fear I had for this closeness, I think I pushed a lot of friends away. If I hadn’t done that, maybe they would have still been in my life. Maybe we would have had long and amazing friendships. It’s something I still think about.”

In “Close,” which A24 acquired for distribution just ahead of its debut, the first breezy scenes between Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustav De Waele) are of running freely through fiends in summertime. Once they get to school, they still sweetly drape and lean on each other, but their mutual affection brings scorn and queer labels that Leo, at least, isn’t ready to accept. Leo instead turns guarded and defensive with his feelings, which crushes Remi.

For the 31-year-old Dhont, who was closeted in his teenage years, “Close” is a film he describes as “part of me.”

“I have the feeling that I’ve been waiting to make this film for a long time,” he says. “I was a boy who had the feeling that I didn’t really belong. I didn’t really belong to the group of girls in my school and I didn’t really belong with the group of boys in my school. So I disconnected in many ways from the people around me in school, and also the boys who tried to be friends with me. I lost a lot of precious friendships because I was just scared of them. I was scared of that closeness, scared to be a labeled a certain way.”

Dhont’s film is in competition for the Palme d’Or, an award some are predicting he’ll take home Saturday. Whether Dhont wins or not, the Cannes platform has returned him to the global spotlight after “Girl” was consumed by a firestorm of debate and criticism. After the film won the Caméra d’Or for best first feature in Cannes and landed enthusiastic reviews, many in the LGBTQ community questioned Dhont telling a story about a teenage ballerina’s gender transition with a non-transgender lead. A scene depicting self harm was cited for irresponsibly depicting a false narrative of gender transition.

“For me, the process of ‘Girl’ was a process of learning, of going into dialogue with perspectives that I wasn’t necessarily aware of,” said Dhont. “It was a process of learning about myself and about others. I’m very thankful for that experience. It transformed the way I make films. Every film, I think, you transform. But it did teach me a lot about perspective and how that’s incredible vital and important in making a movie.”

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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For more Cannes Film Festival coverage, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/cannes-film-festival.

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