NewFest: North Sea Texas

7.27.2012

By Jerry Portwood

Belgian filmmaker Bavo Defurne's coming-of-age tale is a gorgeous cinematic experience

A gay coming-of-age tale typically includes heartache or tragedy. Or both. But if it's told with elegance and honesty, then it's worth watching every second of it. That's why Defurne's beautiful tale of a young boy growing up gay in 1960s Belgium is so wonderful. Don't be confused, North Sea Texas (Nordzee, Texas in the original Dutch) has nothing to do with the Lonestar State (and is in Dutch with English subtitles). Rather, it's the name of a quaint local bar (housed in an early 20th-century building that looks straight out of a David Lynch dream) where Pim often finds himself when his single mother—who is more a zaftig pal than a truly maternal force—is out carousing with local gents or playing her accordion to get out of the suffocating small postwar town where they are stuck. 

The rest of the time, Pim's spending hours worshipping at the table of a surrogate family where Mario, an older boy who Pim is in love with, lives. The teenage boys often end behind locked doors to self-pleasure or in fields far from prying eyes where we can only imagine they are engaging in heavy petting. Derfune keeps enough details mysterious, and his real knack is having cinematographer Anton Mertens focus on the natural lighting and beauty of the Belgian surroundings: the way the sand blows along the beach, the wind in the grasses, the light through a window. 

The heartbreaking moments of an unusual child trapped in the wrong surroundings are certainly here. Moments when a younger Pim slips off his clothes and dresses in his mother's tiara and beauty queen sash could harken back to a groundbreaking film like Ma Vie en Rose, but it never feels derivative and contains a sweetness that is not soon forgotten.

North Sea Texas screens as part of NewFest on Sunday, July 29.

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