You’ve seen this story before: A shy young boy, in a quest for love and acceptance, falls for the handsome boy next door. His longing leads to a chance sexual encounter and, after the usual angst, they accept their attraction and the screen fades to black.
But, unlike the usual film school projects that seem to crowd every gay and lesbian film festival schedule, North Sea, Texas, the first full length feature from Belgian director Bavo Defurne, offers a mature and beautifully filmed variation on the typical coming out story.
The year is 1974 and 14-year-old Pim (Jelle Florizoone) lives on the Belgian coast with his mother, Yvette (Eva van der Gucht). Pim’s father has been on out of the picture for years and Yvette seeks male companionship from Etienne, a man who drives her to her accordion performances at seaside bars, and later Zoltan (Thomas Coumans), a young carnival worker. Both Pim and his mother are looking for love and the boy falls for Gino (Mathias Vergels), his 17-year-old neighbor.
After a summer of innocent, yet very romantic sexual encounters, Gino announces he has found a girlfriend, devastating Pim. When Zoltan moves in with Yvette, jealous Pim moves next door with Gino’s ailing mother and sister, Marcella (Katelijne Damen) and Sabrina (Nina Marie Kortekaas). When Marcella’s health fails, Gino returns, forcing the boys to finally confront their feelings and future.
Defurne and co-writer Yves Verbraeken take the typical coming out story and weave a much more complex story. Pim, who has been deprived of a male role model, yearns for acceptance from the men around him, often retreating in a fantasy world of drawings and admiring the objects he collected from those he admires. Gino clearly has feelings for Pim, but acknowledges that life is about “choices,” and his is to pursue a life with a woman.
Both mothers, Yvette and Marcella, also seek love but in different ways: Yvette looks to the future, seeking a free, unshackled life, running away with her young boyfriend, while Marcella is trapped in the past, each day regretting the painful moments of her life.
The entire cast is strong, but it’s the standout performances of Florizoone and Vergels (and Kortekaas) that give the film heart. Defurne reportedly interviewed hundreds of actors in a quest for two teens with the right combination of innocence and romantic chemistry.
Beyond the flawless casting, Defurne leaves no detail to chance in his ‘70s setting, giving a glimpse of life for two lower-class Belgian families, from the tiny European automobiles to the furniture, appliances, and even vintage food packages.
But it’s Anton Mertons’ wonderful cinematography that caps the achievements of North Sea, Texas. He captures the muted, grey palette of the dreary North Sea coast, except when the sun manages to dramatically poke through the clouds, evoking the classic paintings of the late 17-century Dutch masters. He also makes effective use of light to emphasize key plot points and differentiate Pim’s daydreaming sequences.
Yes, you’ve basically seen this film before, but it’s the most memorable film of its genre in a long time.
If You Go
What: North Sea, Texas, (Dutch, English subtitles, 94 min.)
Where: O Cinema Miami Shores at Miami Theatre Center
9806 NE 2nd Ave.
When: Feb. 14 to Feb. 17
For More Information: www.O-Cinema.org