Meet Lukas Dhont, Director Behind Oscar-Nominated Movie 'Close' : 'We Carry So Many Wounds from Childhood'

Close, directed by Lukas Dhont, is nominated for Best International Film at the 95th Academy Awards

80th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Arrivals, Fashion Highlights, Beverly Hilton, Los Angeles, USA - 10 Jan 2023
Photo: David Fisher/Shutterstock

Lukas Dhont was of course elated when he learned that his Belgian film Close had been nominated for Best International Film at the 2023 Academy Awards, but his excitement couldn't match that of his young cast.

The film centers on the bond between Léo and Remi, two 13-year-old best friends, that's suddenly and tragically torn apart. As Dhont, 31, recalls to PEOPLE shortly after the nominations were announced, the actors who play the central pair (Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele) were both watching the broadcast from their classrooms in Belgium.

"Collectively in their classes, they watched it," he says. "They jumped up. They threw their books in the air. They screamed through the corridors. These whole schools were living this moment."

With the film expanding to more theaters on Friday, read below to learn about the acclaimed young director and his award-winning drama.

Léa Drucker, Eden Dambrine, Lukas Dhont, Gustav De Waele and Émilie Dequenne attend the photocall for "Close" during the 75th annual Cannes film festival at Palais des Festivals on May 27, 2022 in Cannes, France.
Gareth Cattermole/Getty

He thought of his mother when he learned of the film's Oscar nomination

Strangely enough, really one of the first things that came into my mind was I had to think of my mother. Because she was a teacher, she's retired now, and she would always paint in her free time. So from when I was very young, I was next to her and I tried to copy everything that she did, and she would borrow me paint, and then I would be able to paint with it. And I saw how she just used color and light and poetry to make things, and I had to think of her art because I guess it hasn't been celebrated or given the platform to that extent.

It kind of made me reflect on just all the beauty and the art out there of the people out there that do not get that sort of platform. So that made me all of a sudden feel very privileged and very honored. I've wanted to make films since I was just 12. And my parents, they knew that someone in our neighborhood had a camera, and so they allowed me to borrow it. And so for the full course of a week, I built the course and I make costumes, and I had my parents and my brother act in all kinds of crazy scripts. My father told me about his adventures within Indiana Jones. This American cinema, or this idea of the Oscars was always very present in my upbringing because we grew up with a lot of American films. So the Oscars have been the decor of my childhood dreams. So there's nothing as powerful as, I suppose as reliving that childhood dream.

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He found his young lead on a train

I saw [Dambrine] on a train and I approached him. He had never acted before. He just had something in the eyes, and I felt a sort of intensity in the face that I thought, that is special. And if I hadn't looked, if I hadn't seen him, if I hadn't been open to that, I wouldn't have met him.

His young stars have opened his eyes to how incredibly their film is being received

When we received the news that we went to Cannes, that we premiered the film in the Cannes Film Festival in the competition, I mean, they went bananas because they had never done a red carpet. They had never acted before. They had never been in a film before. And I think as adults, we often are so, I suppose, focused on the result, or the likes, or the being liked or being loved. And actually, by being able to experience it also through the eyes of a 13-year-old, I feel like I'm taking more of every moment in as the wonder that it is, rather than just being constantly running from one to the next, and being already focused on the next.

Why he thinks the movie is connecting with audiences

I don't know if you ever imagine it moving so many. I mean, I guess you're thinking about trying to capture something that we have all felt somehow.

Close film
A24 Films

When I write, the first thing that I do is I try to start from a very deeply personal place, because otherwise I cannot spend four years with it. But then along the way, leave the me behind, and I try to look for a phrasing so that it is universal and possibly felt by all of us. I think we carry so many wounds from childhood.

I feel like that has really struck a chord because it's something we all felt. Regret is something we have all felt. We have all been pushed away and have pushed away to a certain extent. And so I feel in a world that so often, especially with young men, focuses on, I suppose the war among them. And I also think as a society, we are more ready to confront the wars on the inside rather than the violence on the outside.

He loves working with child actors

It really doesn't scare me to work with young performers because I love working and generally listening to young people. I think when you listen to 13-year-olds speak about life, they have this sort of pure radicalism. They have a sort of pure essential way to speak about deep subjects because they're still so connected to the heart and they do not say anything because society expects or accepts them. I feel like we can learn so much by re-listening or really carefully listening to those voices. Because sometimes as adults, we forget those things, and we censor ourselves, and we become more performers. And sometimes we forget that radical essence that you get when you listen to them.

Close is now playing in theaters.

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