Belgian Writer/Director Lukas Dhont creates a moving exploration of adolescent friendship and masculinity using a very close relationship between two 13 year olds boys.
Dhont struck gold casting Leo (Eeden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustave De Waele). Their chemistry is palpable. Dhont found two first-time actors to portray very complicated roles. He told us in our interview how he found one of them, just by chance, while riding on a train. Once Eeden and Gustave were paired with each other in the audition, they instantly became close friends, then and now.
The first half of this film is a joyous celebration of their lives, constantly playing games together, running and biking through lush fields of flowers together, even being silly eating spaghetti together. Cinematographer Frank van den Eeden (also worked with Dhont on Girl) captures their beautiful, happy faces just loving being with each other in any surrounding. At times van den Eeden makes these scenes look like an impressionist painting.
When the new school year starts, the other students quickly notice how close these two are and question the extent of their relationship. That gets Leo thinking about what he needs to do to prove his masculinity so he can hang with the cool kids.
Remi is artistic and a musician. Leo is seen so proud watching him practice and play his oboe solo at a concert. But other kids reacting to their always being together makes Leo think it might be better to distance himself from Remi. He signs up to play hockey. You can see the disdain Remi has watching it take Leo away from their time together. And as Leo continues, they spend less time together. Remi begins to feel lonely and rejected. Emotions run high and changing friendships can be fickle, confusing, as well as awkward and painful.
The director draws just the right levels of emotion from both without much dialogue. Dhont, who was originally going to be a dancer, likens his script to choreography. He lets the scenes breathe without much explanation, letting the expressions on the faces and body movement tell the story. You see Eeden, with his piercing eyes in closeup, thinking through his next move, and Gustave’s warm smile, or face etched with hurt.
The pain on the faces of their parents when tragedy strikes is also so evident, and not just with tears. The actress who plays Remi’s mother, Sophie (Emillie Dequenne) brings a range of emotion from joy to restrained grief without going too far.
This Oscar nominated film explores masculinity, plus the beauty, as well as the heartbreak, of friendship. Dhont has created a beautiful, sweet and sensitive film about love and loss.
A24 1 hour 45 minutes. PG-13
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