Noordzee, Texas (North Sea Texas, 2011) D: Bavo Defurne S: Jelle Florizoone, Mathias Vergels, Eva van der Gucht
Noordzee, Texas opens with a tune flowing out from an off-screen music box. From the black fades in a bokeh of slowly flickering carnival lights, and then we’re introduced to our protagonist, a small blonde-haired boy named Pim who’s excitedly running into the arms of a man in a leather jacket.
There is something very different about Pim, and we discover this soon enough when he sneaks into his mother’s room to put on her jewelry. He is naked, letting the sun’s rays shine on his innocence. That is, until his mother catches him, and he hides away at his neighbor’s house.
To write off Noordzee, Texas as homosexual fluff would be unfair to the work of its director. Bavo Defurne neither creates a film to pander the LGBT community he champions nor to offend those who find it queer. Any film with gay characters has that effect; it elicits an instant reaction. But Noordzee, Texas is more than mere controversy or fluff. It’s a story about abandonment and finding “home”—concepts so universal they’re able to cut through gender stereotypes.
Defurne captures a teenage Pim (Jelle Florizoone) at his most fragile state. He is growing up, falling in love with his childhood friend Gino (Mathias Vergels), and being left behind by the people he cares about the most, one after the next. And he battles through the confusion and sadness, trying to make sense of the changes, trying to look for something that will last. All of this plays out beautifully, a coming-of-age montage filled with a progression of color-coded frames, scenic wide shots, rich ambient sounds, and delicate scoring.
The film has an abundance of stillness and space. Defurne and cinematographer Anton Mertens never clutter the screen. They allow shots to loiter, letting the audience take in everything in each frame, as if to transfer Pim’s mood and psyche onto them. Every cut from wide to narrow is precise. Every placement on screen is intentional. All the elements serve to serve the film, as they should. Defurne’s mastery of them shows. They push the story along and amplify each actor’s performance.
To think that Noordzee, Texas is both Florizoone and Vergels’s sophomore attempt at acting is notable. They flounder from time to time, but put together in a scene, the tension they build closes any physical gap separating them. This gives the film’s ending more impact. Though bleak and open-ended, it’s both fiery and comforting, and neither depressing nor exaggerated; a good change in LGBT cinema.
Based on: Nooit gaat dit over by Andre Sollie (novel)
Pim (Ben Van den Heuvel & Jelle Florizoone) is a Belgian who lives by the seaside with Yvette (Eva van der Gucht), his distant and apathetic mother. North Sea Texas chronicles his attempts to find love as a distraught and bored teenager, all while dealing with his tense parental relationship.
I would go into more detail about the plot, but it’s hard to pin down a central thread more specific than that. The whole story sort of meanders around for a half-decade or so until it reaches its awkward (but appropriately depressing) conclusion. While that does make the film drag on at times, it also makes the various twists unexpected and dramatic as opposed to obvious. Regardless of the structure, where the film really succeeds is in creating a diverse cast of characters who are flawed, but complex and interesting. Both the script and the top-notch acting bring these realistic people to life.
It is strange that occasionally the film will cut to a shot of some place, then cut away mere seconds later. These “faux-establishing shots” add little to the film, and only serve to confuse the audience.
Overall: A good drama that uses its odd structure and three-dimensional characters to its advantage.
Gay coming-of-agers are ten a penny, the territory being an inherently compelling period, and specifically for dykes and queers significant for the realization of being at a variance to ‘everyone’ else. This one is distinguished by a commendable restraint, and sweetness, rather than overwrought emotionalism and angst.
The main characters are pretty young (actual teenagers as opposed to film-teenagers), but despite some moments of sexiness, the director avoids prurience but while still managing to imbue the intensity and novelty of tent-bound fumblings with an authentic urgency and sense of fond nostalgia (…or maybe that’s just me). The protagonist, despite being your typical Sensitive Boy is impressively eloquent in a dialogue-lite role. Especially since it avoids being ‘about’ homosexuality, I imagine Defurne’s previous shorts are probs worth checking out too.