Inspired by Niobe Way’s nonfiction book Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection, this moving 2022 French drama from Lukas Dhont unfolds as a familiar tale of tragedy, guilt, and forgiveness, but coiling around it are acrid observations of the schoolyard and its role in sexual socialization. Lifelong pals Léo and Rémi are inseparable over the summer, cycling together and sharing laughs, but once they begin high school together, their hands-on friendship is interpreted by their classmates as romantic. The girls tease, the boys bully, and Léo begins to pull away from his bosom friend, who is stung by the betrayal.
The early scenes are fascinating for their insight into the teenage shark tank, particularly how the genders work in concert to identify, target, and punish people who are different. Léo and Rémi are first interrogated about their relationship at a lunch table by three girls sitting across from them whose ill-concealed smiles and knowing glances at one another signal a past conversation of spiteful hilarity. They all pretend they’re cool with the idea of Léo and Rémi being gay, but really they’re just doing reconnaissance for the guys in school, who next move in with slurs and punches.
In his screen debut, Eden Dambrine captures both Léo’s brotherly love for Rémi, played by Gustav De Waele, and his dismay that the other kids may be right about Rémi and their physical intimacy. When Rémi dies, Léo is left to pick up the pieces with Rémi’s shattered mother, played with warmth and grace by Émilie Duquenne, and in the film’s last hour, Dhont largely narrows his focus to them. But there’s a piercing scene of a school grieving session where Léo refuses to participate, and one of the girls who taunted them now sits mute and tearful with remorse. PG-13, 105 min.