DRAMA; 1hr 45 min (French with subtitles)
STARRING: Eden Dambrine, Gustav De Waele
Boys, interrupted: from left, De Waele and Dambrine
The opening of Girl writer-director Lukas Dhont’s drama of undoing is a blast of crystallised innocence as two jubilant 13-year old boys (newcomers Dambrine and De Waele as Léo and Rémi) tear through a field of flowers. More than best friends, the boys are two halves of a whole, so sealed inside their moon unit that girls at their new high school feel compelled to ask if they are a couple. Léo flatly denies it, yet although the sunshiny bubble of their country lives rolls on almost as before, a seed has been planted that leaves Rémi — the softer and more easily wounded of the duo — disconcerted and hurt by Léo’s emerging coolness. His rejection of Rémi is undeniably brutal but so are the snakes and ladders of schoolyard politics, and to survive and thrive, Léo believes he needs to move on.
Dhont and cinematographer Frank van den Eeden keep Dambrine close from first beat to last, his angelic face registering the finest degrees of Léo’s every feeling in what is essentially a solo show with sterling support from overwhelmed family and friends. Such unremitting scrutiny would be a hard ask for an experienced actor, yet 15-year-old Dambrine commands every taxing scene with a watchful care that speaks the volumes that Léo, in his self-protective cruelty and subsequent guilt and sorrow, is unable to bring himself to verbalise. The art of understatement is Dhont’s greatest gift: in real life, so much is contained in what is hardest to express.