Meeting with Lukas Dhont, the young prodigy of Belgian cinema who could win the Palme d’Or
In 2018, her first film, Girl, left Cannes, winning the Camera d’Or. This year, the young and talented Lukas Dhont returns to the Croisette, in official competition, with Close, the story of a close friendship between two teenagers. One of the most beautiful films of this 75th edition.
There are faces that do not deceive. Like those we discover at the exit of the first Cannes screening of Close: reddened eyes, eyes still misty, sniffling noses… How not to be moved by this poignant story of friendship between two pre-adolescent boys? Léo and Rémi, played by the formidable Eden Dabrine and Gustav De Waele, form a close-knit duo that nothing seems able to break. They love each other like brothers. But do they really have to put words to what unites them? Three of their classmates will do it for them. They ask them about the nature of their relationship: would they be in a relationship? Leo firmly denies it. Rémi, a little less. But this simple remark, however far from being aggressive, will be the starting point of a real upheaval.
A few hours after the screening of the film, still not really recovered from our emotions, we find Lukas Dhont at Albane’s, on the terrace of the Marriott. So here is the new little prince of cinema. Does he like this qualifier that has been attributed to others before him? Like Xavier Dolan, for example, with whom he shares some common points. At 31, Lukas Dhont is indeed the rising star of Belgian cinema – he was born in Ghent – but also international. Many predict him a prize at this festival. And why not the Palme?
Close is only your second film, but already your second selection at Cannes. Do you feel lucky? Privileged?
In fact, I feel indebted. I understood that I wanted to be a director very young, when I was seven or eight years old. At the time, my mother was in the process of separating from my father, and I could see that she was going through a rather dark period. One day, she came back from the cinema very enthusiastic: she had just seen Titanic. She was talking about this movie with such joy. For her, it had been an escape. He had had a real impact on his daily life. So every night, before going to sleep, I asked him to tell me about Titanic. I was too young to see it, but I thought it was fabulous. This is how it all started… So being back in Cannes today is wonderful.
Your first film, Girl, met with incredible critical success. In 2018, he left Cannes crowned with the Camera d’Or. So with Close, there is necessarily additional pressure…
Ah, but you’re the one putting pressure on me there (laughs)! In truth, with Girl, we lived an intense moment, very strong emotions, especially here, in Cannes. I couldn’t have hoped for better for a first experience. I made this film travel for a year and a half, then I had to learn to mourn it. Honestly, it was a complicated period, because I had to find what I wanted to do afterwards.
So you didn’t immediately have the idea for this second film?
We often talk about the “second film syndrome”: now, I can assure you that it is not just a legend (laughs). I even looked on YouTube for interviews with other directors to see how they had overcome this fear of the blank page. I made Girl with intuition, without worrying about what people would think of it. Whereas for Close, I was afraid of disappointing. You know, a first film is like an inner storm. With the second, you have to find this feeling.
In Close, as in Girl, you film adolescence. What interests you in this age of life?
Already, I am young. I’m 31, so adolescence is still yesterday for me (laughs). Personally, I experienced a lot of things during this period, and I want to talk about it.
What kind of teenager were you?
Pretty lonely, I think. I belonged neither to the boys’ group nor to the girls’ group. And as soon as boys tried to approach me, I was afraid of what these friendships could conceal of physical. I was especially afraid of what people might say about it, think about it… I gave too much importance to others. I wanted to be as others wanted me to be. When you are a teenager, it is difficult to be yourself, without concession. This idea of conformity, I already approached it in Girl. Close is as much a film about masculinity as it is about friendship.
Is it a friendship story? Not a love story? You might think so, though.
Love or friendship: it’s the same thing, after all.
The first part of your film explores the awakening of adolescent feelings. We are almost in a modern version of Friendships. Then all of a sudden, an event – which we will not reveal anything – changes the plot.
Special Friendships, I saw this film! You point out exactly what I wanted to do. Because when you start a film with a scene of two young boys sleeping together in a bed… Well, we’re all thinking the same thing. Even me, to be honest. But that’s exactly where the confrontation comes from. At the beginning of the film, these two teenagers share something so beautiful, so physical, so intimate. And they don’t need to explain it. It is others – for example, their classmates – who seek to put a label on their relationship.
Homophobia is not a subject in your film.
Homophobia is very present in our world. So me, on screen, I didn’t want to explain it. It’s there, it’s inherent, you feel it… But I didn’t want to give it more importance.
Even the parents of the two boys seem to have no reservations about this fusional relationship. However, your film takes place in a popular environment, in the countryside. A world often closed.
I didn’t want my film to revolve around a possible conflict between parents and children. That’s not the theme here. There are two families: that of Léo, who works a lot in the flower fields, and that of Rémi, with this mother very close to her son, almost a friend.
If Close talks about your own adolescence, which character is the most like you? Are you more Léo or Rémi?
It’s a very personal film for me. However, it is not autobiographical. I am not one character in particular, but rather all of them at the same time.
Author: Michael Zippo
Sources: VanityFair, IO Donna
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