Friendship and loneliness are two of the most dominant themes in Lukas Dhont’s 2022 film “Close,” where the widening gap and the receding friendship between two childhood friends are explored from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy, Leo. Having been the best of friends for as long as they can remember, Leo and Remi’s friendship starts to erode after they join a new school, and the insensitive kids there poke fun at the comfortable intimacy the boys share. Over a span of almost 100 minutes, the movie explores the ways in which society creates a bridge between friendships and drives a stake through innocence. With beautifully created characters who shall definitely leave the audience with moist eyes, here’s a look at the two main characters in the movie “Close.”
Lukas Dhont selected Eden Dambrine as the actor for Leo after finding the young boy in a train car and being immediately impressed by the stunningly expressive eyes that Eden had. These eyes form a big part of Leo, a wide-eyed teenager whose life revolves around his best friend, Remi. Leo’s days remained incomplete without Remi, and he was the boisterous and louder of the two, coming up with imaginary games where only Remi could be at his side and no one else, and running across Leo’s family’s orchards with his best friend at his heels. The golden-haired Leo was deeply curious about everything Remi did, from the way he played the oboe to how he looked while sleeping. He made plans to tour the world with Remi, where the latter would be a famous oboe player and his blue-eyed friend would be his manager. This idyllic world of Leo is intruded upon by the ignorant and intrusive questions of his new schoolmates, who start questioning the relationship he shares with Remi. He’s made to feel bad for choosing to prefer the company of his best friend, so he begins lying to himself. Insulted that his sexuality is questioned, he pushes Remi away from his bed because the innocence of two boys hugging each other while sleeping has been perverted by the cantakerous comments of the bullies. Remi tries several times to understand his friend and resume their friendship, but Leo is bent on ignoring the boy who stuck with him all his life.
Leo pretends to adopt a more macho persona, where he starts playing ice hockey and hanging out with the more “masculine” men of his school who talk football and sports—only. He distances himself from Remi and stifles his tears because he needs to save face from being called names by his peers. It seems like he has fun with his new group, but he steals a few glances at his best friend, who is talking to girls and little kids and looking cheerful, and Leo is remiss. The life of the boy is turned upside down when he learns that Remi has taken his own life, and guilt starts eating at him. So great are the pangs of this guilt that he lashes out at other kids who talk about Remi after his passing—incidentally, they’re the same boys who made snarky comments about Leo for being close to Remi. Leo puts on a brave face during the day, playing football and trying his best on the ice hockey rink, but at night, he can barely sleep as the pain of losing Remi, and his final actions keep haunting him. Leo starts wetting the bed and is frustrated when the world no longer makes sense to him. At 13 years of age, he’s forced to mature a lot quicker than his peers because he learns first-hand how it feels to lose one’s best friend at an age when most friendships are just at the budding stage. Despite his attempt to keep his jaw clenched and the smile he feigns during his school activities, Leo breaks down quite often, and his performance in ice hockey keeps deteriorating because he’s tired of putting on the charade of being tough and hardy, and he ends up breaking his wrist during their match. With eyes that could tell a hundred stories, Leo is forced to bottle up the myriad emotions that well up inside him, and whoever he turns to for comfort is unable to help. He tries talking to his brother, but the elder brother is ill-equipped to help the grieving boy, and he also tries a sleepover with his friend Baptiste—the one kid who was never mean to Leo while he used to get bullied—but the intimacy he had with Remi seems gone for good. He meets his best friend’s mother, Sophie, many times but is never once able to bring up the topic of how her son is dead because he isn’t comfortable being seen with a boy who loves him.
The only way he’s able to find solace after hurting for a long time is when he confesses to Sophie inside her car that he had pushed Remi out of his life, which led to him taking his life. His young face is lined with pain as he weeps over the loss of the boy who grew up with him, and Sophie asks him to get out of her car but quickly checks herself. She has to chase after Leo through the woods and has to calm him down after throwing away the branch he had picked up, probably to hurt himself. When Leo returns to Remi’s place, he finds it deserted, much like the orchard field he used to run through with Remi before their childhood and innocence were blemished by the viciousness of society.
Gustav De Waele plays the role of Remi, another 13-year-old boy and Leo’s childhood friend. Remi was the quieter kid of the two, and Leo’s voracity about life kept him going. He was happy playing oboe for a crowd as part of an orchestra, following Leo around, or listening to his lofty plans about how they’d tour the world. When they headed to their new school, Leo’s intimacy with him raised questions, but Remi remained unbothered because it did not matter what other people had to say about their closeness. What mattered to him was the assurance that Leo would wait for him every morning so they could head to school together. Remi loved the fact that Leo would draw—albeit bad—portraits of him while he posed and that he came to his performance. Remi didn’t mind being serenaded by Leo blowing air on his face, and he even tried initiating the game about imaginary soldiers that Leo used to play with him at the start of the film when he could feel the silence between the two grow deeper. Always used to being the one following Leo around; he feels weird when his best friend starts distancing himself from him. It begins one night when the two go to sleep like usual on Remi’s bed, but Leo chooses to go sleep on the floor because he has been made conscious of the intimacy between them. Remi comes to join him, but Leo starts pushing him away, and it soon devolves into a scuffle, and both boys end up having a tiff.
It’s possible that Remi had always been a little temperamental, which is why Sophie rapped on his bathroom door because he locked it after his fight with Leo. He later cries at the breakfast table because Remi was never the loudest or “manliest,” which is what society forces young boys to be from a ripe young age. His emotions were soft, like his whole personality, and his way of complaining was to cry behind closed doors, but his eyes would betray tears when he couldn’t help it. Remi was confused and trying to make sense of why the boy he thought the world of wanted nothing to do with him and kept cycling away from him. He tried everything, from trying to catch up to his friend with his cycle to coming to see him play ice hockey, but Leo’s heart must’ve grown as icy as the rink he played hockey on because Remi’s quiet pleas to bring his friend back fell on deaf ears. If the flowers in Leo’s orchard or the walls of Remi’s room could talk, they’d scream that Remi did nothing wrong and yet was subjected to neglect and humiliation from Leo, who called themselves best friends earlier, although to save his face from a group of inquisitive girls curious about their relationship. Unable to voice his pain and to fail to make his friend see that he was breaking apart in a million pieces with each day that Leo spent playing ice hockey instead of having noodles with him or laying his head on Remi’s shoulders, he grew silent. The loudest cry for help that Remi made was confronting Leo the day he left for school early, abandoning Remi. This wasn’t lost on him, and he tried questioning Leo, with the faintest hope that he’d apologize and want to be friends again, but he quickly realized from Leo’s steely glance that he had made up his mind to be done with him. So, the timid kid with dreamy eyes picks a fight with Leo while bawling terribly, his last attempt at clawing back to his friend. Remi was at the edge, and his best friend, disgruntled to see him weep, pushed him over, and he walked into the place of no return.
Throughout the duration of the film, with the two on screen, the distance keeps growing until they no longer meet each other’s eyes. The last time Leo saw Remi, he was chatting with a few girls and younger boys, and he looked normal. That’s what depression is like; it doesn’t manifest itself outwardly, and someone might have lost the reason for their existence and yet plaster a smile on their face. Adults are forced to do this to not let the ones that rely on them see them as weak, but no kid of Remi’s age deserved this, and he was forced to grow up way earlier than he should’ve had to. That’s the last time we ever see Remi, and find out later that he took his life, and Sophie had to break into his room to find him. A life so innocent and pure was lost because society determined how young boys should behave with each other. Remi’s death broke Leo, but not more than it broke Remi when Leo ended their friendship because mean boys called him names.