Love—Fears and Tears
Close & Alice, Darling
Film reviews by Marc Glassman
Lukas Dhont, director & co-script w/Angelo Tijssens
Starring: Eden Dambrine (Leo), Gustav De Waele (Remi), Emilie Dequenne (Sophie), Lea Drucker (Nathalie)
Relationships between teenagers are often way more intense than anything else they’ll experience in their lives. When you break free from your family for the first time, the people you meet can mean so much to your development into an adult. The bonds we form then can be crushing or they can be liberating, but they’re something no one will ever forget. Close, the Belgian film nominated for the Best Foreign Oscar, is about the intensity of such a relationship and how it can go unintentionally and painfully wrong.
Lukas Dhont’s film starts in the summer when 13-year-olds Leo and Remi spend days and nights together, playing in fields, eating dinners and having many sleepovers supported by their loving parents. The scene is idyllic. Things begin to change in the fall when the two enter middle school. Suddenly, their close friendship becomes scrutinized by their new classmates. The new school’s boys want to break up the friendship. The apparent closeness of the two upsets and maybe repulses them. Two of the girls are more direct, asking Leo and Remi if they’re gay. What’s sad and revelatory about all of these questions is that the two boys have no immediate way of responding. Watching this beautifully made film—and at this point we’re a third of the way into it—you know that these two lads have been complete innocents. The issue of sex has never arisen between them and they had never thought about any larger meaning of their friendship.
Suddenly confronted, Leo and Remi reel in shock. You see that Remi doesn’t have the psychological resources to deal with his classmates—his new society—questioning who he is. Leo slowly withdraws from Remi. As Canadians, we may be amused by his response. Leo takes up ice hockey, a rather obscure macho sport in Belgium. There’s no way back for the two, just as there’s no way back in life, once you’re fully aware of the implications of friendship, passion and sexual desire. In the end, Close is about tragedy and how people deal with it. When love goes wrong, it hurts everyone—those who survive and those who do not.
Lukas Dhont is a superbly talented director, who beautifully evokes lives led in schools, farms and even hockey rinks. The acting feels natural and spontaneous, thanks to Dhont, and his fine cast. Young Eden Dambrine is terrific as Leo, a character whose journey is of paramount importance to the film. Special mention must be made of Emilie Dequenne, who is so persuasive in the pivotal role of Remi’s mother, Sophie. 24 years ago, in 1999, Dequenne won the Best Actress Award at Cannes as an angry teen in Rosetta, the finest Belgian production of its day. Now, she’s back—and superb—as the devastated mother in Close.
Mary Nighy, director
Alanna Francis, script
Starring: Anna Kendrick (Alice), Kaniehtiio Horn (Tess), Charlie Carrick (Simon), Wunmi Mosaku (Sophie)
As a Canadian, it’s great to say that Alice, Darling, Anna Kendrick’s important new film about psychological abuse and redemptive female friendship, was shot in Ontario. Not all of our co-productions are as worthy as this one, which was made during COVID and is finally ready for release now. Most of Alice, Darling is set in cottage country, where three old friends have gone to celebrate the 30th birthday of one of them. While there, Sophie and Tess become concerned about Alice, Anna Kendrick’s character, whose confidence and humour seem to have become eroded by Simon, her smarmy British painter boyfriend. Simon is so insistent on having Alice all to himself that she lies to him about her cottage week, pretending that she has to go to Minnesota for work. Of course, he finds out, but not before Tess and Sophie force Alice to confront herself and realize that Simon has taken away her identity and self-worth, all in the supposed name of love.
For those of us who love Ontario and it countryside, this film is a rarity. It truly evokes the beauty of the north, with intense and gorgeous scenes on boats in the middle of one of our thousand lakes. Alice, Darling does suffer from flaws though. There’s a subplot about a missing girl, which leads nowhere, and Charley Carrick as Simon simply isn’t menacing. But the Nigerian-British actor Wunmi Mosaku as Sophie and Indigenous icon Kaniehtiio Horn as Trudy are terrific. They warmly accompany Anna Kendrick, who gives a brilliant performance as the devastated Alice.
The film rises and falls on Kendrick, who is more than up to the task of showing a vulnerable woman, whose pride makes it difficult for her to reach out to her best friends even during the most difficult time in her life. Kendrick makes us care about Alice and about women in situations like hers, many of whom may not realize how much of themselves they’ve sacrificed to sustain an abusive male. At its best, the film is about the power of friendship and love and how it can make damaged people whole again. Alice, Darling is a flawed but moving film that is worthy of attention and respect.
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