Nigeria

Know “Close” , a strong contender for the international film category at the 2023 Oscars

"Close," a Belgian film directed by Lukas Dhont, is a potential contender for the international film category at the 2023 Oscars due to its success since Cannes. The film explores gender fluidity and adolescent impulses and is praised for its sensitive approach. However, some critics argue that the "sensitive gaze" approach can lead to impersonal storytelling. The film's strength lies in the performances of its adolescent cast. The film's effectiveness depends on its attempt to succeed, as its dramaturgy doesn't offer much after the twist. The film faces the challenge of adding more substance to the drama to avoid being derivative or impersonal.

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The Belgian film “Close” is a strong contender for the international film category at the 2023 Oscars, given its success since Cannes. Director Lukas Dhont is praised for his sensitive approach in telling the story of two 13-year-old boys whose friendship is challenged by their peers’ judgment at the beginning of high school. The film explores gender fluidity and misunderstood adolescent impulses, following in the footsteps of Céline Sciamma’s work in the coming-of-age genre.

However, some critics argue that the film’s “sensitive gaze” approach can sometimes lead to an impersonal and symbolic storytelling style.The issue is that, above all, the so-called “sensitive gaze” can often be – and frequently is – a tactic of impersonality. It begins with the choice of a “noble” theme (in this case, the debate about prejudice and inadequacy in the face of the possibility of early homosexuality) and involves a cinema of symbols also loaded with nobility (the plot is set in rural Belgium, and the scenes of flower harvesting on the farm serve as a metaphor for the beauties and innocences that are nurtured and crushed by life).

Lukas Dhont uses the expected sensitivity of naturalistic Franco-Belgian festival cinema, inherited from Sciamma and the Dardenne brothers, to capture the daily life on the farm, in the homes, and at school. He employs handheld cameras to capture the mundane routine, longer shots to film bodily friction without interrupting the action arbitrarily, and close-ups to try to capture the intimate understanding of the world that is revealed in children’s faces. While this approach is recognized as “refined,” it is also derivative.

To prevent Close from being merely derivative or impersonal in its “sensitive gaze,” one way would be to add more substance to the drama, and that is precisely the challenge the film faces when the tragic turn (no spoilers here) reorders the issues for one of the protagonists: he stops absorbing reality innocently and begins to recognize his moral place in the world, which by extension deprives him of innocence.

Close manages to support this violent discovery process reasonably well, thanks to the adolescent cast’s excellent performance, the film’s greatest asset. Both Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele offer themselves up for close-ups in a perfect balance between detachment (their gestures and reactions always appear the most authentic) and typification (both visibly carry and display traits and behaviors that we understand as feminine and masculine). Sometimes a film happens only in the faces of its actors – it is one of cinema’s miracles – and that seems to be what Lukas Dhont aims for in Close.

Sometimes, however, this is not enough. Close’s effectiveness largely depends on its attempt to succeed, as its dramaturgy doesn’t offer much after the twist. In fact, while we wait for the protagonist’s moral awakening (which occurs in an artificially prepared final confrontation), Dhont’s camera just seems to fly in circles and explore the character, even if with the best intentions. Although the cliché of the “sensitive eye” might suggest that Close is a narrative that moves from sin or punishment to understanding and forgiveness, what we see in this impersonal and uncommitted exercise perhaps does not go much beyond penitence, and secret pleasure to exercise some formal control over another’s sense of guilt.

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