The Belgian director Lukas Dhont spotted Eden Dambrine, an eleven-year-old French dance student, on a train and asked him to audition for his latest film Close (2022). Among the youth’s qualities were his “very big eyes.”
In discussing film acting, the great director Nicholas Ray—They Live by Night (1948), Johnny Guitar (1954) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955)—observed, “You must act so your eyes will be visible to us.” For the entirety of Close, a story about the fallout of a friendship between two young boys, Léo (Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele), Dambrine’s eyes prove riveting.
What’s so fascinating about the state between childhood and adolescence is that kids feel emotions so intently, but are unable to cope with them or articulate what is going on inside them. And then there is peer pressure that compounds and confuses those emotions through prescriptions on behavior like “the need to fit in” and ideas of masculinity. As the 31-year-old director notes, “It’s important to talk about what we deprive these men of, from an early age, and that’s a true sense of connection. It feels urgent to talk about that other way of thinking: vulnerability and tenderness.”
Dhont’s semi-autobiographical film captures that aspect of growing up so brilliantly, it is no wonder that Close won the Grand Prix at Cannes and just received an Academy Award nomination for Best International Feature Film. The less said about the plot, the better, but I have to say that Dhont’s film goes for the throat and doesn’t ever let go. Dambrine’s face conveys an incredible sense of depth and mystery—qualities we don’t necessarily associate with kids—as well as the kind of deep pain that reminded me of that conveyed by Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine in Francois Truffaut’s New Wave masterpiece The 400 Blows (1959).