Winner of the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Lukas Dhont’s follow-up to the transgender drama Girl is another moving study of a difficult adolescence. Speaking at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International award-season event, he described the film as the story of two best friends Léo and Rémi.
“They’re 13 years old,” he said, “and they have been best friends since forever. It’s a beautiful, tender and intimate friendship, and we follow them as they go to high school. As their closeness starts to become questioned by their schoolmates, we see how that will impact their friendship.”
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Dhont revealed that the inspiration actually came from a non-fiction book called Deep Secrets by American psychologist Niobe Way. “She followed 150 boys between the age of 13 and 18,” said Dhont, “and at the age of 13 she asked them to talk about their male friendships. When you read these testimonies, they are filled with vulnerability. These boys dare to use the word ‘love’ very openly — their vocabulary is very emotional. And then at the age of 16, 17, 18, she re-asked the same boys the same questions. And you notice how these boys all of a sudden don’t dare to speak in that same way and how they don’t dare to use the word ‘love’ when speaking about each other. They just don’t dare to use that emotional vocabulary anymore.”
Although these testimonies came solely from Americans, Dhont was quick to see the connection with his own experiences, growing up, and how this could be the basis for a wider-reaching story.
“I always try to start from something that is deeply important to me,” he said, “and then, along the way, I try to find the universal feelings in there. For me, the beauty of poetry or art is when it is framed in a universal way. So this film came from a deeply personal place — for a long time I thought that my fragility was my weakness. My tenderness was my weakness. Because in this world, from a very young age, we [teach] young boys to fear tenderness and to fear vulnerability, and I think understanding the universality of that was important for me in making this film.”
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