PG-13, but mostly because of the suicide that happens throughout. This is about suicide in homosexual culture, especially in adolescents. It's a rough subject and the entire movie is saturated with themes of responsibility in the wake of a tragedy. There's some stuff that could be considered hate crimes. Still PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Lukas Dhont
As we started getting close to the end of the Oscar list (I still don't know if I'm going to watch Avatar: The Way of Water or not), things kind of got rough. I don't think it was intentional. It's not like we saved the worst movies for the end. Maybe there was a subconscious element to that. But really, it came down to the International Feature Films (which I thought used to be named "Foreign Language Films", making me question why The Banshees of Inisherin wasn't on that list.) Usually, the international pictures were always a bit hard to get a hold of, maybe because of international release dates being different. But the only one we couldn't get a hold of was The Quiet Girl because it doesn't come out until the end of the month. Still, the international pictures, films I usually like, were a bit of a slog again.
Like with EO and All That Breathes, Close was a movie that absolutely should have been a short. I'm not an editing guy, but I think I could have easily cut half-an-hour off of this movie and it would have actually worked better. I think that comes from a notion of simplicity. Simple isn't bad. If anything, there's something absolutely beautiful that a movie that is laser focused on one idea and tells it well. As much as I'm already poo-pooing Close, it does a lot right. It captures something very difficult to translate in film, the confusion of growing up coupled with elements of burgeoning sexuality. Once again, to save time, I'm not going to include the accents while writing. Please excuse me, but I have a difficult time when typing quickly figuring out the combinations of keys to make that happen. Leo is this fully fleshed out character that benefits from a third person limited perspective. While there are scenes without Leo in it, the central focus is so on Leo that Remi comes across as an enigma. The result is what the movie probably intended: Leo's relationship status and culpability for Remi's death are extremely confusing.
But beyond that, the message gets a bit muddy. I kind of want this movie to do the impossible. I want the movie to feel like Remi's death is Leo's fault AND stress that mental health is not the burden of a thirteen-year-old boy. Yeah, we want to have the emotional journey that Leo is going through. While he's thirteen, there's something universal about the confusing feelings that people have for each other. Okay. That's reasonable. In terms of watching characterization, I want Leo to go through the gauntlet of figuring out what suicide is all about and questioning his every action. There's something there. Suicide is a confusing topic and there's no clear right answer. Adults struggle with it; teenagers struggle with it even more. But the movie, due to the camera being so focused on Leo, never really gets the message that Remi clearly had undiagnosed depression and that nothing he did was his fault. There's a little bit of that, when Remi's mother initially accuses Leo of her son's death. there's one message. Yes, Mom immediately takes back her accusation. But I don't think that Leo, and by proxy the audience, gets the message that needs to be conveyed there.
It's all because, the entire time with Leo, I was thinking that Leo has the right to question what is going on both physically and emotionally with his friend. We're all on the outside. We can clearly see that Leo is gay. (My wife argued that Remi might not have been gay until way later in the movie.) We have the benefit of being removed from the situation. We see that Leo starts "butching himself up" when he attends school. There's a cause and effect that we have the benefit of distance to explore. But from Leo's perspective, he's thirteen. Who knows who they are at thirteen? Other people can tell us, but it's natural for Leo to question his own sexuality. But let's say that Leo made peace with the notion that he's probably gay. Let's give him an amazing sense of insight. As much as friendship and relationships matter, Leo's journey is not to make sure that Remi doesn't kill himself or explode over jealous moments. I know that it made Leo look pretty bad throughout the movie. But no one is contractually obliged to be in a relationship with someone else.
Yes, Leo and Remi were extremely close at the beginning of the movie. It really implies that both sets of parents knew about the unstated and unclear relationship between them both and were cool with it. But they're thirteen. As much as Leo comes across as a stereotype, being gay doesn't mean being one thing. I don't want to say that this story wasn't about homosexuality. But thirteen is this age where people find so many other parts of themselves. If I was the same person my entire life, I'm clearly not exploring the potentiality of life. I don't think that Leo is necessarily lying to himself; I think that Leo is experimenting and living life to the fullest. There's this misconception that living life to the fullest is always this joyful thing. It's about stepping out of comfort zones and exploring new things. I get the vibe that Close is damning Leo for his behavior with Remi. Sure, there was probably a better way to handle a lot of it, but this kid is still just a kid, for goodness' sake!
I do wonder what the obsession was with this movie and hockey. Here's me unpacking things as I was watching it. "Okay, to redefine himself, he's going to do a tryhard and join a masculine sports team. I hope he can skate." "Oh, he said he can skate, but he doesn't seem that good at it." "Oh, another hockey scene." All this eventually leads up to "Is this a hockey movie?" The answer, of course, is no. This is not a hockey movie. But the movie kind of forgets that the point of the hockey was an attempt to redefine himself so that he doesn't have to be thought of as the gay kid or the gay kid who lost his boyfriend kind of. I don't really get that Leo ever really cares about hockey or anything that he's redefined himself as. This is where my half-hour of movie would get cut out. I get that we need to see time pass and him grow more and more confused about his feelings about Remi. But it never really escalates so much as has a holding pattern as Leo gets really good at skating. I like the idea that Leo can communicate what seems incommunicable by talking to others. After all, even the bullies, oddly enough, are trying (yet failing!) exude empathy.
It's kind of all circling back to why I want this movie to be a short. That limited perspective does damage to a far greater conversation. The movie should absolutely have Leo as the protagonist. That's the core of the film. He's the foundation. His emotions are what matters. But most stories have a clear protagonist while exploring the greater world of suicide. As a short, Leo can have this limited perspective. People can say things that should be consoling and Leo can lose it on them. That's actually a fascinating short. But it almost feels like the movie forgot what it is was supposed to be because as Leo embraces his myopic perspective, generally lacking greater empathy as a thirteen-year-old, there are important things that happen that we never get to take a part of. For example, there are hints that his family are really concerned about him, but we can't ever really glean that because we only get what Leo sees. This is one of those movies where a cool concept (in this case, limited information) hinders the greater story and forces the movie to deal with a lot of filler.
I really want to like this movie. There's something absolutely brilliant about it. The only problem is, the structure gets in the way. If the point of storytelling is to communicate ideas, only one idea really gets through and that idea is rough to the point of almost being problematic. This could have been one of those great films, but instead it kind of comes across as boring, losing its way once Remi kills himself. Like a thirteen-year-old often doesn't know what to do, neither does the movie.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.