Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bavo Defurne's NORTH SEA TEXAS explores the boy next door, Flanders-style

The first few scenes of Bavo Defurne's new Belgian film NORTH SEA TEXAS may put you in mind of another popular Belgian film from 1997, Alain Berliner's Ma vie en rose. The reference, I suspect, is quite intentional. In Berliner's movie, a very young boy explores his feminine side as he increasingly insists on dressing like, acting like, perhaps even becoming a girl. M. Defurn, who is shown below, begins his movie, too, with the hallmarks of this fixation but allows them to mix with some other fixations -- you might call this a kind of childlike OCD behavior, where numbers and letters become important guides in getting through life. His main character, whom we see first as a cherubic five-year-old platinum-blond boy named Pim, soon jumps ahead a full ten years to become a still-cherubic but now dirty-blond adolescent learning how to work those fixations into some kind of manageable life.

Those of us who grew up "different," eventually coming to learn that we were gay, will readily identify with Pim. We'll also wish that we were ever as cute as actor Jelle Florizoone (below, left, and on poster, top right), who plays him. He's a quiet kid who would rather draw pictures than play games, and who has, as we see from scene one, an attraction to dark-haired males. One of those is his best-friend and boy-next-door, Gino (played by Mathias Vergels, below, right and on poster, top left). We don't learn the full extent of this attraction nor its cause until nearly the end of the film, and this information is handled as subtly as much else of the exposition in this quiet, slow-to-build movie.

The time frame of the film is, I think, deliberately unclear. But it is not set in present-day (maybe the late 1970s, early 80s?). This is smart because, rather than heading down the path to nostalgia, the time-frame allows us to better understand the reluctance on the part of the participants to admit or even discuss homosexuality.

The film takes a look at much of the small-town society of this coastal village -- from Gino's kindly family (a sister and mother, but no father) to Pim's good-natured but rather slutty mother, who works in the local bar called Texas (see photo at bottom), and her current boyfriend (above). There is also a kind of mystery man -- dark-haired, of course -- named Zoltan, below, right, a would-be gypsy seen at film's beginning and again toward the end.

Mostly though, this one's a love story -- at least on Pim's end, Gino is in it for the sex -- and a kind of coming-of-age tale about a boy who must come of age a little earlier than usual. He does, and in the process he learns how to reject. Whether or not you see the ending as a happy one will depend on how you view the behavior of these two young men and how set in their ways they may already be.

In any case, the film -- very well made: written, directed, acted and photographed -- is a shoo-in for gay audiences and for any straights who can handle a problematic but honest-to-goodness love story. Between young men.

North Sea Texas, from Strand Releasing, opens this Friday, November 2, in New York City at the Clearview Chelsea Cinema (if Chelsea has its electricity back, post-Sandy) and in the Los Angeles area at the Laemmle Playhouse 7. And elsewhere, eventually, we hope.

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