Have you ever been through a friendship breakup? How do you cope in the aftermath? Our writer reflects on this topic after watching an emotionally powerful film recently.
They say friendship breakups are the worst kind of breakups. Friendship breakups hurt more than romantic entanglements, and one might not fully recover from them. If adults are grappling with this, how about kids? How will they handle it should they experience a friendship breakup? That’s the premise of Close, a coming-of-age drama that opened at The Projector recently.
Close: A beautiful bond between two people broken
Close follows Leo and Remi, two 13-year-old boys with an unbreakable bond and intimate affection for each other. Leo often sleeps over at Remi’s place, and the two share the same bed. Remi’s parents, Sophie and Peter, treat Leo as their second son.
The film depicts the boys’ friendship in an idyllic, youthful haze. They chase each other across lush green fields. The two are constantly laughing, being jovial, and having fun. Their scenes are awash with vibrant colours and lighting. The mood feels bright, happy, and uplifting. You wish you were a part of their friendship. However, everything shifts ten minutes into the movie…
Sticks and stones and hurtful words
One day in school, a classmate asks the two boys if they are lovers. Leo vehemently denies it, looking uncomfortable. Remi remains silent. The conversation ends, but you can see that Leo is affected by the question. On top of that, there are occasions where homophobic slurs are directed towards him, specifically.
During your adolescent years, it feels like anything thrown at you can – and will – affect your self-confidence. Take it from me – I was bullied in secondary school, and it took me a long time to get over that incident. Everything Leo does after those encounters is in the name of self-preservation; sadly, his actions severely impact his friendship with Remi.
When two become one
Instead of talking about the incidents and his feelings with Remi, Leo ices him out. He hangs out with others and takes ice hockey as an extracurricular activity. During a sleepover at Remi’s place, Leo chooses to sleep alone on a mattress. He devotes more time to working at his family’s farm. The two hang out with each other less and less.
This is a classic case of taking matters into your own hands. Leo internalises everything instead of sitting down with Remi and talking things out. Is he embarrassed about his friendship with Remi? Or is there something deeper that Leo’s not divulging? Could it be the teenage hormones? Nothing is explicitly said, leaving things to moviegoers’ interpretations.
Eventually, things come to a head, and Remi confronts Leo at the schoolyard. The latter becomes defensive, and the two have a physical altercation in front of the entire school. It doesn’t end happily for both of them.
It’s the end of the world as we know it
The second half of Close focuses on Leo after the fight. I won’t spoil it for you, but something significant permanently alters his friendship with Remi. While I had a feeling this would take place after watching the trailer previously, I was still mildly surprised when the film went there.
Leo blames himself for the dissolution of their friendship. He may appear fine, but he’s grappling with what has happened. And it’s not just him who’s deeply affected – Sophie and Peter are struggling with the repercussions too. One scene, in particular, broke my heart and kicked off the waterworks.
The film’s second half beautifully showcases the five stages of grief through Leo’s eyes. The Kübler-Ross model – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – is emotionally highlighted. Edem Dambrine, the actor portraying Leo, is outstanding here.
Of intimacy and masculinity
At this juncture, Leo feels he has no one to turn to except for his brother, Charlie. Charlie comforts him both emotionally and physically. I have to be honest – I was slightly miffed when these scenes occurred. Why is Remi ‘punished’ for doing the same thing that Leo did with Charlie? Is it because Charlie’s a family member while Remi’s just a friend? Is it also because with Charlie, it’s only between them, while with Remi, some of the physical affection happen in school, in front of their peers?
These scenes – and Close as a whole – shine a light on male friendships. Compared to female kinships, male friendships are stereotypically known as devoid of emotional and physical intimacy. This is an extension of how men are expected to behave in this world, alone and in a group setting.
Why does masculinity play such a part, particularly regarding intimacy with same-sex friends? Is it an archaic, patriarchal ideology that should be examined and discarded? Or is it emblematic of something bigger within men that they don’t realise?
In an interview with Los Angeles Times, director Lukas Dhont elucidates the reason behind Close. “It’s about the young male experience because young men are not given that space to express themselves in that way. It gives you a place as an audience to interpret that experience as you want. But it’s not about their sexuality; it’s about how their intimacy and sensuality are looked upon and how we are conditioned to look at it. How we want to compartmentalise everyone into boxes and labels and how we want to put a stamp on that love, and not let that love just exist in its true free form.”
Close: A powerful film that’ll leave you in tears
“It’s okay to cry,” my friend comforted as the credits rolled. I nervously laughed while gingerly wiping the tears from my eyes. Previously, after the movie’s trailer had played, I had predicted that I would cry by the end. And I did. If you’re planning to catch this, be sure to have tissues handy.
Close is an emotionally-rich film buoyed by the stellar performances of Dambrine and Gustav De Waele, the two leads. I was also impressed by Emilie Dequenne and Kevin Janssens, who played Remi’s parents. However, some parts of the second half, especially relating to grief, felt too on the nose. I wish it was more nuanced. That didn’t detract from the movie as a whole.
Ultimately, there’s a (painful) lesson to be derived from this film. Out of the many things you will face in this world, I hope you don’t experience a friendship breakup. It’s a terrible thing to go through, and even though you’ll make it through, the scar stays with you forever.
Close is now playing at The Projector.