Another among the twelve M6-produced “Rebel Years” series of adolescent telepic narratives — four of which were in San Francisco Lesbian & Gay fest — “Close to Leo” is an uneven but often strikingly intimate drama. Chronicling reaction within a close-knit family when the eldest of four sons discovers he’s HIV-positive, feature further demonstrates the promise of fiction author/playwright-turned-director Christophe Honore (“17 Times Cecile Cassard”), who adapted his own novel with former film critic Diasteme. Gay fest travel could be followed by limited offshore home-format or even arthouse sales.
Seaside Brittany clan is thrown for a loop when 20-year-old Leo (Pierre Mignard) informs mom (Marie Bunel), dad (Dominic Gould), junior sibs Tristan (Rodolphe Pauly) and Pierrot (Jeremie Lippmann) of his frightening health news.
Alarmed but supportive, they decide 12-year-old Marcel (Yannis Lespert) is as yet too young to share this knowledge. But Marcel overhears that conversation, and for a time keeps his anxieties secret while resenting being “left out” of the otherwise tight family’s crisis.
Family’s unusually warm, physically affectionate bond is movingly conveyed by helmer and well-matched thesps. Especially poignant near-wordless segs include a frolicsome midnight swim shared by all four brothers, and a scene in which Leo crumbles into his father’s arms after a short hospital stay.
Pic’s willingness to bank psychological insight on idiosyncratic, sometimes elliptical details goes overboard at times — mom’s grass-stained faint in the backyard and Leo’s impulsive, aborted tryst with a hotel concierge come off as histrionic excess. Still, passionate tenderness between principals vividly limns something rare in modern screen drama: A solidly loyal nuclear unit that, despite life’s hurdles, is not dysfunctional.
P.o.v. is mostly confined to Marcel’s odd-boy-out, his grappling with the insufficiently shared truth coming to a head when Leo chooses to take him along on a privately meaningful trip to Paris.
While viewer might wish for more equal-time insight toward middle sons or parents, “Close” doesn’t significantly disappoint until an abrupt leap to the funeral coda.
The original 1996 novel, penned for subadult readers, was written when AIDS drug therapies were less hopeful. In the current Western medical climate, diagnosis = death denouement comes off like somewhat gratuitous tragedy. Parting freeze-frame is awkward.
Narrative flaws are smoothed over considerably by ensemble’s exceptional ease, and artful lensing by Remy Chevrin (whose next project is Isabelle Adjani vehicle “Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran”). Tech values are fine.