Cinematography of Close: The Use of Colour to Represent Identity, Love and Loss
Thank you to Bristol’s Watershed cinema for screening this film
Set against the backdrop of the Belgian countryside, A24 film Close by Lukas Dhont depicts a beautiful friendship which takes a tragic turn. The friendship in question is between thirteen year old boys Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav de Waele), who share a closeness that is shattered when Léo begins to pull away upon noticing the negative reactions of classmates. This leads to fatal consequences and Léo must then deal with grief for the loss of his friend.
Through the use of tools such as colour and depth by cinematographer Frank van den Eeden, the film transports the viewer into the world of childhood. In this world, colours burn brighter and every emotion is felt more passionately. The reliance on colour is first shown in the flower fields where the boys play and Léo’s parents grow their harvest. As the boys run through the fields, we can personally feel the magic of their imaginary games.
The unique quality of this film’s cinematography is in the way that each boy is represented by a different colour. Léo is constantly surrounded by yellow in his scenes, and Rémi is characterized by his red clothing and bedroom walls. This use of colour not only signifies to us which character to empathize with in each scene, but is also a tool to demonstrate the closeness of the boys’ relationship. Amongst scenes of yellow, we see flashes of red -a piece of clothing here and a flash of light there- and vice versa. This intermingling of yellow and red shows us the effect that each boy's presence has had on the other.
However, as Léo distances himself from Rémi, the colours begin to subtly change. We see less of the original colours as Léo’s yellow fades and is replaced by a pale blue in his own scenes. Although this blueness grows stronger as the boys drift apart, we still sometimes catch glimpses of red and are assured that Léo is thinking of his friend. This is shown effectively in scenes where Léo is learning to play ice hockey. In a predominantly blue hockey rink, we catch glimpses of red line markings under the ice each time Léo falls. We see his emotional turmoil as he tries to distance himself from Rémi through this new hobby but cannot seem to forget him. In these scenes, each glimpse of red is an assurance that there is still hope for the boys.
Midway through the film, we are delivered the shocking news of Rémi’s passing as Léo learns of this from his mom. After this point, the colours begin to change more drastically. Léo completely loses yellow from his scenes, and the red that represents Rémi (such as in the clothing of his mother) fades to brown. Léo is engulfed in a world that lacks both of the colours through which the characters used to be represented. This lack of both yellow and red shows that through losing Rémi, a part of Léo is lost as well.
The last time that we truly see the colours of bright red and yellow as they were in their original vibrancy is when Léo finally revisits Rémi's room. Illuminated by the red hue of Rémi’s walls, Léo fiddles with a yellow toy that has been sitting on one of the shelves. This presence of yellow amidst a sea of red shows the impact that Léo has had on Rémi’s life, and strengthens the message of their connection. It communicates the idea that the impressions we make on one another are permanent and tangible.
After Léo leaves Rémi’s house and continues on with his journey through grief, we heartbreakingly realize that without his friend, Léo will spend the rest of his life living in hues of brown and blue. These colours represent the absence of Rémi and what it has done to Léo, and show the physical effect of the pain that is grief.
Léo continues through life, and we see signs of healing as time passes and he returns to his hobbies, as well as through the healing of his arm from a hockey injury. One significant sign of this healing is the return of flowers to the fields in a new season of growth, their red colour representing the memory of Rémi. However, the film doesn’t communicate a happy ending. Although the flowers grow back and Léo is able to play in the fields again, he still feels pain as he looks back in a heartbreaking over-the-shoulder shot in which we can tell that he is remembering moments spent playing there with his friend. This slight return of red into Léo’s life shows that although we may lose loved ones, their memories live on through us.