At first, I figured that this challenge would be pretty easy to complete but the trick here is to keep the review interesting throughout the entire 1250 word length. Today I'm going to review North Sea Texas, a Flemish coming of age drama which is close to my heart. Click below to read my views on the film and to read more about the blogathon, click here.
After directing a number of short films that have proved popular at LGBT festivals worldwide, Flemish director Bavo Defurne directed his first feature film in 2011, titled North Sea Texas. This small gem was co-written by the director alongside producer Yves Verbraeken, but it's originally based on a little known children's novel written by Andre Sollie, titled This Is Everlasting or Nooit Gaat Dit Over in the original Flemish.
North Sea Texas won a few minor accolades on the awards circuit but it wasn't a big smash, even in foreign box office terms. Despite this, I was keen to watch the film for some time as I had heard some positive reviews, so I was ecstatic to finally see it appear on Netflix a little while back. Yay for streaming! But would it match my high expectations or would the film fall flat on its face?
Pim (Jelle Florizoone) is a quiet, sensitive teenager growing up in 1950s Belgium by the coast. With only an absent father and a reckless mother to rely on, Pim turns to his close friend Gino (Mathias Vergels) and his family as a support network, but things become more and more complicated as Pim develops feelings for Gino while warding off the affections of his sister Sabrina.
North Sea Texas is a realist film reminiscent of the kitchen sink dramas that emerged in 1960s Britain, due to not only its family focus but also the period in which it is set. The structure of the film is quite laid back in a sense and you could argue that not much actually happens in terms of plot, but I was never bored throughout the movies 95 minute running time. The pace changes throughout and months at a time may fly by between scenes, but each vignette reveals more and more of Pims' inner struggle with his sexuality.
While the gay coming of age drama is not a particularly original sub-genre, North Sea Texas is refreshingly optimistic in its approach. Instead of having to deal with the homophobia of those around him, Pim's conflict is more internal and focuses on his emerging sexuality, exploring how this impacts the tumultuous relationship he shares with his best friend Gino. Given the time frame in which the film is set, it's surprising that Defurne wasn't tempted to explore the attitudes of the era in further depth but I'm glad he didn't, as this lends North Sea Texas a timeless nostalgic quality that I really enjoyed. The homophobia we often see in films of this ilk would have muddied the sweet tender nature of the screenplay and detracted from its charm.
I haven't seen Defurne's previous work yet, but based on his direction here, this Flemish director is one of the most exciting film makers to emerge from Europe in recent years. Every shot in North Sea Texas is beautifully framed and the Belgian landscapes look absolutely stunning, particularly in a dramatic scene set on a windswept beach. Defurne's style is mostly realist in tone, although some musical flourishes and certain characters embellish the reality of the piece and create a more stylised atmosphere.
There were a few subtle directorial choices that really impressed me in particular on first viewing. For example, when Pim and Gino first express their feelings for one another, the camera gradually cuts away to long grass swaying in the breeze, evoking a sweet tenderness that makes their love seem like the most natural thing in the world. Some close ups are used sparingly to heighten the emotional intensity of certain scenes, but the majority of North Sea Texas is shot in regular medium shots so as not to detract from the story.
Defurne's charming direction is enhanced by the simplicity of the period in which the film is set. The clothes, the pastel coloured houses, everything comes together to create a picturesque postcard view of Belgium. Some critics have accused Defurne of focusing too much on the aesthetics and not spending enough time on developing the story further but personally, I enjoyed the general tone he evoked, that feeling of being young and in love for the first time. The experience of being an adolescent is created authentically here through the combination of all these disparate elements coming together.
One thing that particularly stands out upon first watching North Sea Texas is the quality of the acting. Every member of the cast impresses, from Gino to Pim, but even secondary characters make their mark in a few short scenes. Pim's mother Yvette, the accordion starlet, is easy to like and hate in equal measure and her sleazy boyfriend really makes the skin crawl every time he tries to ingratiate himself with her son. The brief appearance of a charismatic lodger named Zoltan also stood out, as both mother and son compete for his affections.
My favourite character though would have to be Gino's sister Sabrina, played to perfection by Nina Marie Kortekaas. Her infatuation with the protagonist Pim echoes his own suppressed adolescent urges and its heartbreaking to see her lust for him when all he wants is her brother. A tender scene where Sabrina and Pim practice dancing together is particularly poignant to watch.
But what of Pim himself? Our protagonist is not your typically quirky teenager from such American 'indies' like Juno or Rushmore. Instead, Pim is unusually quiet and prone to dreaming, which some critics have derided on the grounds that the central character needs to be easy to relate to. Personally, I find that assumption absurd and extremely unrealistic. I would choose to watch a film like North Sea Texas with an authentic portrayal of adolescence over some obnoxious loud mouth teen movie any day.
Pim may not voice his every thought, but subtle insights are provided through the wonderful screenplay which allow us a glimpse into his world. The way Pim attentively looks after his mother and her partner shows us a boy just longing to be loved and the care he takes over his box of mementos is particularly touching. Good screenwriting is more than just good dialogue.
Some critics disliked North Sea Texas for its lack of a 'strong' lead but for me, this was one of the strengths of a brave film which chose not to shy away from the realities of teenage desire. There are some who may also feel like not much is happening throughout the majority of the film and while there are occasional pacing issues, ultimately, I was still taken in by the sweet good-natured vibe of North Sea Texas and I would recommend it to anyone. The love depicted here is universal and to call it a 'gay' film would be like just calling any Hollywood romcom a 'straight' film', so if you have prejudice, put it aside to enjoy this touching movie.
Enough about my views though; what do you think of North Sea Texas? Would you watch another film directed by Bavo Defurne? What did you think of the central character Pim and his relationship with Gino? And what was your favourite scene? Let me know what you think by commenting, liking and sharing below. Remember also to check out the other contributions to this blogathon by clicking here.Thanks for reading!