This year's London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival's closing night
gala showcases Bavo Defurne's debut feature film, North Sea
The film is an exploration of small town teenage angst, desire
and sexual awakening. Focusing on the life of Pim, a reserved boy
growing up on a coastal Belgian town with only his voluptuary
accordian-playing single mother, the film trudges through the
heightened emotions and overarching mundanity of teenage life.
The film begins with Pim's young dreams of tiaras and beauty
queens, and although the image of a boy applying his mother's
make-up at her dressing table is somewhat hackneyed, his is
beautifully drawn, and thankfully not dwelled on for too long.
Instead, North Sea Texas centers on the advent of Pim's 15th
birthday where we witness the gripping sexual tension between him
and his slightly older, slightly sultrier neighbour, Gino.
As things progress, tension turns to tryst and the boys live out
a short and touching affair, until Gino turns 18 and discovers
women. Pim is left predictably heartbroken, but this feeling is
only fleeting and his attentions soon redirect and fall upon a
rugged gypsy traveler passing through the town for the summer.
The subplots have Gino's sister falling miserably in love with
Pim, and Pim's mother routinely gallivanting off with sleazy men,
leaving Pim in Cinderella slippers, ironing morosely.
It's true: teenage life has no real plot - and nor does North
Sea Texas. This scantily plotted film hardly makes for captivating
viewing, as there seems no real emotional ascendance, with incident
following incident without ever climaxing - while we all know this
isn't necessarily unpleasant, it's hardly fulfilling. And to top it
off, if mundanity is the chosen key of this film, then it should
remain consistent - the film's fairytale happily ever after is
discordant and unconvincing.
North Sea Texas' strength lies in its powerful cinematography
and Defurne's ability to render bodies with epicurean beauty. His
infatuation with the male form is enhanced splendidly with his play
with light and shadow on bare skin and extensive use of close-up
shots of faces. The result is that Defurne indulges an audience's
lingering prurient gazes, while wordlessly drawing from the
characters the subtlest of emotions.
Perhaps the most admirable trait of North Sea Texas is that the
actors are the age their characters are meant to be. Defurne claims
he faced considerable difficulty when it came to this: "Most
teenage boys are afraid of playing a gay character and make a fuss
of doing things with a boy that would not be problematic if their
partner were a girl. Many candidates did not show up to the
audition. Some parents forbade their kids from attending the
auditions." Frank discussion of childhood and to some extent
teenage sexuality is taboo, and this is undoubtedly heightened when
the attraction is same-sex and there is an age differential
involved. Defurne accordingly dedicates the film to "all those kids
whose parents wouldn't let them take part in this film."
It might be more appropriate to dedicate it to gay teenage love
- it is a film that provides texture, empathy and humanity to one
of the most ridiculed and shameful kinds of love we know.
North Sea Texas is showing at the LLGFF's Closing Night Gala on
Sunday 1 April