Now nearly 10 years old (it was initially made for French TV in 2002), Close To Leo makes a welcome return to DVD. It’s one of the best movies ever made about HIV/AIDS, largely because it treats it as just one aspect of the characters’ lives, and is actually more interested in the issues the disease raises as people attempt to carry after the diagnosis, rather than being overly angsty about the infection itself – although with enough angst that it doesn’t feel flippant.
Told through the eyes of Marcel, who’s on the cusp or puberty, the film follows a family in Brittany after they discover the eldest son, Leo, is HIV+. Marcel isn’t supposed to know this, but he picks up enough to realise what’s going on, even if he can’t accept that he’s being left out of important family development. While Marcel initially reacts by rebelling, he eventually goes off on a trip to Paris with Leo, where the two attempt to bond.
One of the joys of Close To Leo is how real it feels. It does a good job of throwing you into the trials and tribulations of a family without feeling forced or overly melodramatic. That’s particularly impressive considering that it has a tendency to want the character’s emotions to flip at the speed of light, so that one second they’re happy and the next they’re shouting (it makes you feel as if being in a French family must be rather nerve-racking, as you’d never know how someone would react from one second to the next). However it’s all bonded together by an impressive depiction of a family that truly loves one another, despite any problems they may be facing and the tendency they have to react badly or to get things wrong.
Close To Leo slightly suffers from the French film disease of simply stopping rather than having an actual conclusion, but 90-minute slice of life preceding that is well worth a watch.
Overall Verdict: HIV and AIDS has proven a tricky for film, but Close To Leo negotiates the line between how it changes lives and how life goes on extremely well.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac