Film Review: North Sea Texas

A small but quite lovely and wonderful film, gorgeous to look at, which tackles an age-old subject with radiant freshness.

It’s the early 1970s in a small Belgian coastal town, and lonely, introverted Pim (Jelle Floorizone) is completely besotted by his sexy, more confident friend Gino (Mathias Vergels). Gino has seemingly everything, including a motorbike and a loving, tight-knit family, consisting of his mother Marcella (Katelijne Damen) and sister Sabrina (Nina Marie Kortekaas), as opposed to Pim’s situation with his selfish, neglectful mother Yvette (Eva Van Der Gucht), a now-plump former beauty queen who’s more concerned with the constant men in her life than her necessarily secretive son.

To Pim’s inexpressible joy, Gino returns his affection and the two embark on a secret affair, while an ignorant Sabrina pines for her brother’s now constant companion. However, when Gino becomes involved with a French girl, Pim must suffer being told that this was “all just a phase to be grown out of,” and deal with his pain alone. Distraction comes in the form of a handsome carnival worker, Zoltan (Thomas Coumans), who comes to board at Yvette’s. But, unfortunately, Mama has eyes for him as well, and usually gets her way in these matters.

Bavo Defurne makes a beautiful feature directorial debut with North Sea Texas. Gay coming-of-age stories are nothing new, but Defurne’s good taste, febrilely sensitive approach and insight lend his film a remarkable freshness. You fully feel the volcanic emotions of first love, the thrill of furtive adolescent passion, as well as the near-blinding heartbreak which can follow. Defurne is immeasurably aided by cinematographer Anton Mertens, whose work will rank as some of the year’s most striking. The simple tale is wrapped in gorgeous but never too self-conscious imagery: the anachronistically Deco Texas bar set against moody Belgian skies, where Yvette works; an ecstatic motorcycle ride with Pim blissfully hugging the waist of his beloved; their physical intimacy in a rosily lit tent; a beach walk with the sand gracefully trailing in the wind behind them; a shot of the desolate Pim alone at a bus stop, which has an Edward Hopper-like, mysterious composition.

The actors are perfectly cast. The pale, golden Floorizone and darkly exotic Vergels make a visually felicitous couple and their chemistry is throbbingly authentic. Floorizone admirably never overdoes Pim’s pathos and truly captures the isolation and self-sufficiency all too familiar to anyone who was ever a lonely kid. Van Der Gucht is blowzily effective and so real as Yvette that it’s impossible to despise her, quite an achievement. Damen, her opposite number maternally speaking, but with her own darker side, is also excellent, although the fate cooked up for her perhaps overloads things dramatically. Kortekaas is heartbreakingly unrequited, in this story of people forever yearning for what they can’t have. However, the film’s happy ending has an earned sweetness, like Forster’s Maurice, which I think audiences particularly need at this time.