Belgian director Bavo Defurne produces an enjoyable debut with first feature North Sea Texas (2011), an adaptation of the novel This Will Last by Yves Verbraeken, providing an arresting portrayal of a young boy’s first love. Pim (Jelle Florizoone) lives in a dead-end town on the coast of Belgium with his single mother – and minor local celebrity – Yvette (Eva van der Gucht). Pim spends much of his time daydreaming about becoming a beauty queen in order to escape the monotony of his life, but as he matures his attention shifts to the boy next door, Gino (Mathias Vergels).
This coming-of-age story has many positive qualities; its heartfelt approach towards the emotional turmoil of a young homosexual boy has been dealt with sensitively, and its most successful moments convey well the sense of adolescent despair that a first crush can kindle. In his first feature Florizoone plays his part skilfully in what is a challenging first role. Particularly pertinent are the scenes that explore the fractured relationship between Pim and his mother, and those of Pim and his next-door neighbour (who in turn becomes something of a surrogate mother).
North Sea Texas’ production and costume design are notable and add a sense of kitsch, retro style to the overall film. The bright outfits of both Gino and Pim clearly represent their ‘difference’ to the dull surroundings, such as the run-down dinner and Pim’s shabby home. This is all enhanced by the skilful cinematography of Anton Mertens.
Despite these numerous positive aspects, the film is still found wanting in some respects – the story is touching, but not powerful enough to make a remarkable film. The subject matter has plenty of potential to be something truly special but sadly the sense of isolation (so often felt by teenagers) comes across as tepid. There are even moments where North Sea Texas is reminiscent of Richard Ayoade’s Submarine (2011), but for the gay community and stripped of some of its more obvious humour.
There is much to be savoured from North Sea Texas and many will take a great deal from it, yet there is undoubtedly a sense of something lacking; the ultimate frustration in a film with such potential.