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We Create Loneliness: Lukas Dhont on His Oscar-Nominated Film, Close | Interviews


At the film’s Cannes press conference, Eden spoke about how he and Gustav were encouraged not to memorize their lines, which seemed to connect with your stated desire to grant your actors a “freedom to exist.”

I had gone to a film school that combines documentary and fiction. While there, I made small documentaries and small fictional work, and I never chose between either of the two. This has proven to be a key for how I sometimes work. I feel that in the films I make now, I have a very naturalistic documentary approach with the actors, and I have a very impressionistic style when it comes to the use of color and light, which conveys that what you are seeing is fiction. With all of my actors—the adults included, but especially with the kids—after they have read the script once, I tell them, “We’re not going to read it again.” They love that because the thing they worry about most is learning text. I tell them, “We don’t have to learn any texts,” and of course, they didn’t imagine that this would be the case. What I explain to them is that we’re going to work for six months, and over the course of that time, and I will guide them toward knowing exactly what they need to do during the shoot. Of course, they have still read everything and captured it. 

During these six months, we spend time together and watch each others’ favorite movies. Gustav’s favorite movie is “Singin’ in the Rain,” so, thank god, these kids also have taste. [laughs] We go walk by the seaside and make pancakes together. Every so often, I will ask them, in a very informal way, questions like, “Why do you think Léo doesn’t wait for Rémi at that moment?” Eden will be like, “Huh,” and what happens is he becomes active. I don’t tell him what the reason is, he makes up his own. He becomes a sort of detective for his own part, which excites him because he feels like he is creating, and I need to have that excitement. That is one of the first things that I look for. After the first month, I bring in a camera. When we go to the seaside and walk by the coastline, I invite the camera to become a part of our togetherness. The camera is rolling without me ever saying “action” or “cut.” So what they get used to is that sense of me inviting in a camera without asking them to do anything differently as what they were already doing. They start to feel that there is a sort of fluidity between the document and documenting what we are doing and creating.

I install a fine line between documentary and fiction during that very early rehearsal because what I really want to arrive at is this complete transparency between them and the camera—them and the audience, actually. I want them to feel like there is no camera since the camera will be going up really close to their faces. I can only achieve that if they have gotten used to it, and that object has become something that they don’t care about anymore. I will also create similar bonds with the adult actors. One of my requirements for the adults in the cast is that they will be present to create a sense of family and intimacy with us. Léa Drucker reminded me of something that I said to her in an early conversation because she thought it was remarkable and yet very simple. When she asked me during the first year, “How do you envision this collaboration? What is important for my part?”, I just said, “The most important thing for me is that you love Eden.” It’s basic, but I also think it was the pillar from which her performance got that sort of raw authenticity. She could not have played the scene on the bus in that way if there had not been that connection between them. So I think how I work with actors comes a little bit from that documentary approach. I do look for a way in which you feel that they are existing rather than they are performing.

“Close” is now playing in theaters. 

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