A lonely gay adolescent suffers the pangs of unrequited passion in “North Sea Texas,” a poignantly rendered coming-of-ager from tyro Belgian helmer Bavo Defurne. Delicately capturing the ecstasy of first love and the heartache of frustrated desire, this affecting Montreal World Film Fest entry nabbed first-feature awards from critics and jury, the latter a second-place Silver Zenith. Pic could parlay its kudos into additional niche arthouse distribution, even Stateside; further fest and ancillary action is assured.
The narrative unfolds in a small town on the Belgian coast in the late 1960s and ’70s, where introverted dreamer Pim (Jelle Floorizoone) grows up accustomed to neglect from his selfish mother, Yvette (Eva Van Der Gucht), and petty humiliation from her putative boyfriend, Etienne (Luk Wyns). A now-plump former beauty queen, Yvette still has a penchant for flirting with locals at the Texas bar and performing on the accordion that far overshadow her maternal instinct.
Pim eventually finds succor at the home of Yvette’s co-worker Marcella (Katelijne Damen), where he hero-worships her several-years-older son, motorcycle enthusiast Gino (Mathias Vergels). Meanwhile, Marcella’s daughter Sabrina (Nina Marie Kortekaas) obviously longs for his attention.
Friendship turns into love when Gino, cautioning Pim to secrecy, provides the besotted boy’s first sexual experience. But when Gino begins a relationship with a French girl, jealous Pim focuses his wistful romantic fantasies on Zoltan (Thomas Coumans), the hunky itinerant carnival worker who comes to board at his house. Unfortunately for Pim, Yvette also sees Zoltan as a way out of their dead-end town.
the pic benefits from an artful combination of naturalistic performances and attractively stylized visuals, aided by judicious use of an evocative score. The isolated seaside location (unspecified in the film but shot in Ostende) practically becomes a character itself, with gorgeous shots of crashing waves, blowing reeds and empty sand dunes employed lyrically throughout.
Debuting director Defurne, known for his shorts celebrating gay love, took a risk in casting a trio of age-appropriate newcomers, but Floorizoone, Vergels and Kortekaas repay him with emotionally truthful performances. The adult thesps, too, are generally strong, particularly the sensual Van Der Gucht and the sizzling Coumans, who unself-consciously display their bodies. The weak link, performance- and character-wise, is Damen’s Marcella, who is saddled with too much expository dialogue.
Executed in widescreen with a Red One camera, Anton Mertens’ crisp lensing leads a colorful craft package.