While adolescence is one of cinema’s favourite subjects (and for various reasons a virtual obsession in gay and lesbian cinema), few films find a balance that feels as if it’s getting to the truth about ‘coming of age’. Bavo Defurne’s North Sea Texas does just that, telling a familiar story yet managing to make it feel fresh, acutely observed and charming. Much of this comes from evoking a strong sense of the early 1970s, great cinematography and excellent performances from a mostly inexperienced cast. It doesn’t hurt either that the strong characters avoid clichés.
Pim (Jelle Florizoone) is a teenager living with his floozy former beauty queen mother in a Belgian coastal town. His mother is more interested in how Pim makes her feel than the boy himself, although this does give him a small amount of freedom to lust after his next door neighbour, Gino (Mathias Vergels). Teenage hijinks turns into first love for Pim as he and Gino embark on a relationship, but heartbreak’s not far off when Gino decides to get a girlfriend. A silver lining arrives in the form of handsome carney Zoltan (Thomas Coumans), who rents a room from Pim’s mother. Pim starts to flirt with him, as much to get back at Gino and his mum as from a genuine attraction, but further pain isn’t far off.
Films about teens starting to express their sexuality have a tendency to view that as the only important thing in a gay adolescent’s life (probably because it’s something that looms so large in gay people’s lives after the fact), but North Sea Texas realises it’s just one thing in the melting pot of youth – a vital part but not the only thing. Indeed it’s almost backwards to most film’s about gay youngsters, as Pim seems one of the few people around with his head screwed on right and who actually knows what he wants – he is who he is and has been since he was a little boy (collecting things that are special to him in a secret box) and that never changes.
He has angst, but it’s caused more by other people’s inability to be honest about themselves than any lack of self-awareness on his part – something that’s as true of Pim’s mother as it is of Gino. While Gino is keen to see his relationship with Pim as being part of a phase and just two young guys letting off sexual steam, Pim himself never questions his sexuality. It’s a refreshing thing to see in a subgenre that’s often far too overwrought for its own good – it may be set in the 70s, but Pim is a rather 21st Century gay cinema hero.
With strong performances, great characters and some wonderful seascapes, it’s a film with real charm. Jelle Florizoone as Pim is a real find, with a wonderful mix of innocence and strength. Also excellent is Nina Marie Kortekaas as Gino’s younger sister, who harbours a crush on Pim.
Director Bavo Defurne is admired by many for the short films on gay and lesbian themes he made in the 90s. It’s taken a long time for us to get a feature length movie from him, but it’s been worth the wait. Defurne is a filmmaker with a real voice and a sharp eye, creating a world that feels at once mundane and gritty, while also being special and bright. It’s a world that’s depressed and yet has promise for the future, or at least it does as seen through the eyes of Pim.
Overall Verdict: I can easily see this becoming a bit of a gay cinema fave, as it’s charming, entertaining, sweet, moving and has a strong romantic streak. A wonderful film that understands youth far better than most.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac