North Sea Texas
To make matters worse for the "eh" reaction that meets most of American Gay Cinema, the foreigners have done it again; this time with a charming gay coming-of-age tale from Belgium.
"North Sea, Texas" ("Noordzee, Texas") is a lovely story about a young boy named Pim (Ben Van den Heuvel) who grows up in the 70's with a bawdy and immature accordion playing mother (Eva van der Gucht) who is more concerned with drinking and finding a man than nurturing her son. Pim tends to spend his days in his own world, spending time with his friends and collecting objects he is drawn to and putting them safely into a box. This includes a fake Princess crown and sash. When his mother catches him wearing them, the delight here is that she just chuckles and tells him to come down to dinner. For his mom Yvette, her son's preclusion for things not entirely "masculine" isn't an issue, and it makes "North Sea, Texas" stand out as not your typical coming of age story.
When we cut to a sixteen year old Pim now played by the handsome Jelle Florizoone, he is a more standard masculine boy who has a longing crush on bad-boy best friend Gino (Mathisa Vergels). Gino doesn't help the crush by seducing Pim on a number of occasions before jetting off to the South of Belgium where he takes up with a French girl named Simone (Patricia Goemaere.) Meanwhile, mom is carrying on with the blue-collar Etienne (Mathias Vergels) and then pines away for an old tenant who has returned in the form of the sexy Zoltan (Thomas Coumans), a fortune-teller from a travelling fair.
And while Pim can't get over Gino, he is pursued by Gino's little sister Sabrina (Nina Marie Kortekaas) who caters to him like a dutiful servant. But Pim is continuing to experience feelings of love and longing for Gino, only interrupted by the arrival of Zoltan who may or may not swing on Pim's side.
The film as directed by Bavo Defurne and based on the novel by Andre Sollie is beautifully shot and told with passionate restraint. Being from Europe, the film doesn't shy away from showing the two young boys kiss and touch each other's skin (without going graphic). All of the actors excel in their roles, especially Florizoone who carries the entire film on his slim but capable shoulders. At fifteen years of age when the film was shot, he proves himself a brave and natural performer. He, of course, is the film's heart only matched by Gino's mother Marcella (Katelijne Damen) - a sickly woman who cares for Pim when his mother isn't able to. It is with her character that the film has its most affecting moment and reduced this reviewer to tears.
That said, this isn't a manipulative film and is very careful not to play anything too earnestly. It's simply a beautifully rendered examination of the joy and heartache of being an adolescent with emotional and sexual yearnings that can't be outwardly expressed. Deservedly, this will be the gay film to beat this year and a shoe-in to be an audience fave.