Director Bavo Defurne delivered his first full-length feature film with North Sea Texas, released in 2011, and it’s definitely a debut that, I think, could not have been much better. The cinematography is stunning, the acting is excellent, the casting is fantastic, and the characters are very distinctive and well-rounded. The film’s story about a teenage boy named Pim is based on a novel called Nooit gaat dit over by writer and illustrator André Sollie.
For me personally North Sea Texas ticks all the boxes of a great film that is worth watching over and over again as you can discover new things each time. The film is layered in so many ways that you can’t possibly notice every subtle eye movement, every small gesture that could possibly explain so much more, or every single object that could tell an entire story of its own. While North Sea Texas may seem like a very simple and straight-forward film at first, it offers a lot more at a second and third glance.
We’re first introduced to a young boy called Pim (Ben Van de Heuvel) in the opening credits where he’s attending a fair holding his mother’s hand. Pim lives with his mother Yvette (Eva van der Gucht) in a slightly run down house in a small town at the Belgian coast. With his mother being away a lot performing with her accordion, Pim starts bonding with the neighbour kids Gino (Nathan Naenen) and Sabrina (Noor Ben Taouet) as well as their mother Marcella (Katelijne Damen).
In one scene in the beginning young Pim enters his mother’s bedroom. Hesitantly he walks inside, knowing that he shouldn’t be there. He undresses himself, wraps a blanket around his shoulders and finds his mother’s tiara. He brushes his hair, puts on the tiara and some of Yvette’s perfume. Dressed in only his underwear with the tiara on his head, he is opening the window wide looking outside when his mum walks in on him. This entire scene is extremely beautiful to watch. The lighting suggests that at this point in the story, Pim doesn’t really know yet who he is, or rather he knows but he can’t make sense of it. He is walking and acting so gracefully and I can’t help but think that he feels very comfortable doing what he does, he simply doesn’t understand what it might mean. Yvette’s room is very femininely decorated in general and one might read into this scene that Pim is questioning his gender and not his sexuality but I completely disagree with that assumption. For me, it’s not about him wanting to be a girl. It’s simply about expressing himself, dressing in clothes he likes and no one judging him.
The film jumps forward in time and we see Pim (Jelle Florizoone) just before his 15th birthday with Gino (Mathias Vergels) soon turning 18. The two of them are getting really close, masturbating in front of each other, spending a night together in a tent on the beach and regularly being intimate by the side of a pond where they can easily hide from other people. Meanwhile Gino’s sister Sabrina (Nina Marie Kortekaas) develops a crush on Pim and is devastated when she discovers he has feelings for her brother. However, she never confronts Pim about what she knows and just behaves rather nasty and hostile towards him. After a little while Pim and Gino spend less and less time together, causing Pim to feel alone and rejected. He gets angry and breaks Gino’s motorcycle when Marcella tells him that her son started seeing a French girl from another town.
Pim is obviously very comfortable with his sexuality. He never questions it, he doesn’t consider it to be something unusual or unnatural, and he doesn’t hide it intentionally. He hides his drawings of Gino, and doesn’t show his affection to him publicly because Gino asks him not to do that. I personally find Pim very easy to relate to because he doesn’t question his feelings for Gino, he just takes them for what they are.
Jumping forward in time again, Pim is now 17 years old and eventually confronts Gino about leaving him. This time he rejects Gino, pushing him to the ground on the beach when the older boy implies that what they did when they were younger didn’t involve any real feelings.
The whole issue of coming out in North Sea Texas is about Gino who doesn’t take Pim’s feelings, or his own, seriously. It’s not obvious whether he really didn’t feel anything for Pim in the beginning or if he was simply struggling to understand his feelings. While I find Pim’s character very relatable, I would think that Gino is much more easily to connect with for the majority out there.
Yvette shows very little interest in her son, resulting in Pim basically raising and taking care of himself. Zoltan (Thomas Coumans), the man who worked at the fair many years ago and is back in town now, renting the spare room in her house once again, one day suddenly leaves town with Yette but without her son. Pim tries to escape this new lonely reality by drawing as much and as often as he can. Completely on his own, Pim moves in with Marcella and Sabrina, much to the girl’s disapproval.
When Pim is in his own little world, it’s not always easy to understand what he is feeling or how he is dealing with his family situation or Gino, but in general we can see that Pim is drawing so much in order to cope with stress, disappointment and rejection. He doesn’t know how else to manage his emotions so he shuts himself off from his surroundings in an attempt to avoid the drama his life has become. There’s not much dialogue in the film but the way the characters move, the expressions on their faces and the things they do, say so much more than dialogue ever could.
When Marcella is seriously ill in the hospital and about to die, Pim’s world is crumbling around him once more. Losing yet another person close to him, Pim is trying to mend his friendship with Sabrina. When Gino suddenly shows up on a rainy day admitting that he came back for Pim and not for his sister, the two of them kiss and embrace each other, leaving the end of the film and what might happen to them next free to interpretation.
The beauty of North Sea Texas lies in its simplicity. The film is beautifully shot and brilliantly acted, especially by Jelle Florizoone, Eva van der Gucht and Katelijne Damen who deliver outstanding performances. Bavo Defurne achieves so much without having to rely on dialogue, using very distinct and bold colours (just think about Pim’s yellow shirt or Yvette’s yellow evening dress) as well as amazing long shots of the Belgian coastline.
North Sea Texas is one of those films that doesn’t need a massive exciting story with many twists and turns. I realise that the story itself might not speak to everyone but the film is worth watching for the music in it alone, especially Little Auk’s “Wooly Clouds” which perfectly relates to someone like Pim. Obviously you have to be a fan of, or at least be open to, those indie films that move quite slowly without telling you much, but if that’s the kind of film you’re after, Noordzee Texas (original title) is a very obvious and rewarding choice. A lot of LGBT indie films that abstain from using a lot of dialogue simply don’t work. Those films fail to grab their audiences and just trot away, struggling to keep people’s attention. North Sea Texas however works brilliantly without a big story because the characters are so well developed. Regardless of anyone’s gender or age, there is at least one character in this film everyone can relate to – be it caring and loving Marcella, confident but broken Pim, charming Zoltan, inexperienced and stubborn Sabrina, self-absorbed and careless Yvette or cowardly and insecure Gino. Perhaps you can even see a little something of yourself in all of these characters. I know I definitely can.