Once you’ve studied film at degree level you’ll never be able to watch another film with ‘innocent’ eyes. You’ll always unconsciously analyze bits and pieces here and there – the way a scene is lit for example, if the lyrics of the song underscoring a scene perhaps tell us more about the scene than we actually get to see at that moment, and so on. You also spot mistakes a lot easier than you did before and that can really ruin the fun.
Imagine my delight when I came across a film that seemed to be absolutely flawless from the cast and director to the music and editing. This film, for me, was Boys. The first time I’ve seen it at the beginning of the year it didn’t just seem flawless, it actually was (and still is). After watching the film about two dozen times I’m probably biased by now but I personally believe it can’t get much better than this gem of a film.
Boys was originally produced with a target audience of kids and teenagers in mind. It aired for the first time on Dutch television in February 2014 and was later released in selected theatres as well. Because of its success in the Netherlands it was sold to other countries and started to gain international recognition. Jongens (original Dutch title) was directed by Mischa Kamp and starred Gijs Blom and Ko Zandvliet as Sieger and Marc respectively.
The film centres around 15-year old Sieger. He lives with his widowed father Theo (Ton Kas) and his brother Eddy (Jonas Smulders), who seems to constantly look for trouble with Theo. In the lead up to the national championship relay race, Sieger and his best friend Stef (Stijn Taverne) are chosen to represent their athletics team along with two other boys, Marc and Tom (Myron Wouts). Being very intrigued by Marc’s cheerful nature, Sieger soon develops feelings for Marc that go beyond friendship… and confuse him to no end. They form a bond that gets tested on various occasions from pretend girlfriends, denial and (self-inflicted) pressure to hesitation, broken promises, family trouble and inner turmoil.
The story is by no means ground-breaking but the way it is presented makes it so much better than other coming-of-age LGBT films with a similar story. Mischa Kamp did an amazing job directing and casting this film. She is the kind of director I would want for my feature film. And speaking of the cast – it comes as no surprise that Gijs Blom, Ko Zandvliet and Jonas Smulders all more or less knew each other from previous projects before working together on Boys. The chemistry between Sieger and his brother as well as him and Marc is fantastic and I’m sure the fact the actors were no strangers to one another definitely helped a lot in portraying their on-screen relationships as believable and realistic as possible.
While the film essentially tells Sieger’s story, I connected a lot more with Marc. Sieger is struggling to come to terms with his growing attraction for Marc and he ultimately puts pressure on himself. When Stef starts dating Kim, Sieger thinks he should be dating a girl too. He ends up ignoring his feelings for Marc and begins to see a girl named Jessica occasionally. Marc on the other hand is a lot more confident with who he is and doesn’t really care about other people’s opinions. I personally never had this big epiphany that Sieger is ultimately experiencing at the end, which is exactly why I identify more with a character like Marc who is at ease with his sexuality (now at least – of course we don’t know anything about his past so he could’ve gone through what Sieger is going through as well).
One thing that really stands out for me and that I never really noticed to this extent in another film is the use of close-up shots. The first scene that immediately comes to mind in this regard is when Marc invites Sieger to his place for ice cream and they end up playing with his sister Neeltje (Roosmarijn van der Hoek). Another scene that uses close-up shots perfectly is the kissing scene when the boys sneak out of the camp dorm room at night. Both of these scenes say so much without using actual dialogue. Sieger and Marc don’t talk in either scene but their facial expressions say a lot more than words ever could. Having the chance to see their eyes so up close allows the audience to really connect and ‘see’ how these characters feel and what they must be thinking in those situations. Kamp uses close-up shots throughout the entire film in a lot of different situations but they all help to create a very intimate atmosphere that enables the audience to really get into these characters.
The camera work in general is immensely impressive. In the scene where Marc is doing a handstand the camera imitates Marc’s view of Sieger from the ground which in return gives the audience an unique angle to look at Sieger as well. Obviously another prime example is the kissing scene in the pond shot from a bird’s eye perspective. Even though we’re witnessing the scene from above it still feels incredibly intimate but not as if we’re invading the boys’ privacy as we can’t see their faces. The most interesting choice in terms of camera angle is probably the end of the trampoline scene. We see Sieger and Marc facing each other from underneath the trampoline. Even though we’re technically very close to them, there is this barrier between us as the audience and the characters, so we’re both in the action and out of the action at the same time. The camera always positions the audience as close or as far away as they should be and that’s one of the reasons this film works so well.
One thing that really impressed me, and still impresses me every time I watch the film, is the choice of music. The instrumental during the trampoline scene perfectly underscores the scene and helps to create a light and carefree atmosphere not only for the characters but also for the audience as well. The same goes for M83’s “Midnight City”, which is used for the scene at the fair and adds to it incredibly well. The stand out song choice in Boys is definitely Moss’ “I Apologise”. The song begins and ends the film, bringing it to a complete close. The lyrics of the song fit so beautifully into the story and could be seen from both Sieger’s and Marc’s point of view. The first time I watched the film I didn’t pay much attention to it and obviously I didn’t know that the song would be picked up again at the end but once I did it just gave me this sense of hope – hope that these two characters can make it work somehow. And that’s essentially what every great film should be able to do, it should make you care for their characters and Boys certainly manages to achieve just that.
Little fun fact at the end, the name Sieger has a German origin. The German word “Sieger” means victor, winner or champion. Make of that what you will but I think this character was well named.
Boys simply is an outstanding film on many different levels. It’s not just the cinematography, the music, the director or the cast – it’s all of it together. You rarely find a film where every single detail just seems to work together so brilliantly. And there are two advantages Boys has to countless other LGBT films out there, it beautifully portrays the inner struggle of a character coming to terms with his sexuality and not how he’s influenced and pressured by his surroundings, and it leaves on a positive note… or at least a hopeful one. We don’t get to see a lot of either of these things in Queer Cinema these days and that’s exactly why Boys sets itself apart from the rest.