Jelle Florizoone, left, as Pim, and Mathias Vergels as Gino (Strand Releasing)

Jelle Florizoone, left, as Pim, and Mathias Vergels as Gino (Strand Releasing)

Directed by Bavo Defurne
Produced by Yves Verbraeken.
Written by Defurne, Yves Verbraeken, based on the book Nooit gaat dit over by Andre Sollie
Released by Strand Releasing
Dutch with English subtitles
Belgium. 96 min. Not rated
With Jelle Florizoone, Eva Van Der Gucht, Mathias Vergels, Nina Marie Kortekaas, Katelijne Damen, Luk Wyns & Thomas Coumans

In his first feature film, Belgium director Bavo Defurne combines the coming-of-age genre with slight melodramatic overtones to create a melancholy story of adolescence. Set in the late 1960s in a coastal Belgium town, where few people live and little happens, 14-year-old Pim (Jelle Florizoone) develops a romantic attachment to his neighbor, a slightly older boy, Gino (Mathias Vergels), and this instance of first love drives a story about growing up and family.

Pim spends a lot of time with Gino’s family since his mother, Yvette (Eva van der Gucht), a former beauty queen, is often away on weekends with a boyfriend or working at the local bar called Texas. Gino’s sickly mother takes a strong liking to Pim as does her daughter, Sabrina (Nina Marie Kortekkas). Since he was a boy, Pim has been infatuated with Gino, and he is thrilled when their friendly relationship turns into one of sexual exploration, whether in a garage or when they camp out on the dunes. As Gino grows older, however, he begins seeing a French girl, but Pim is clearly in love with Gino. He keeps trinkets that represent his feelings in a box in his room (along with this mother’s tiara).

This is all paralleled by the actions of the women in Pim’s life. His mother dates Gino’s boss, a mechanic, who treats her poorly, but she can’t seem to function without a man for very long. When Zoltan (Thomas Coumans), who had previously rented out a spare room, comes back into Pim and Yvette’s life, the handsome man becomes a complicated distraction for both mother and son from their disappointing romances. And as she grows older, Sabrina develops a crush on Pim, who she constantly calls “dreamer.” She can’t understand why he won’t reciprocate her feelings, and this creates an odd love triangle between her, Pim, and brother Gino. Sabrina’s story becomes as important as Pim’s as she struggles with her own disappointments.

North Sea Texas, like Pim, is a quiet and contemplative film. Defurne keeps the film’s palette fairly grey, except for pops of bright reds, yellows, and oranges. The colors, plus the melancholic, dreamy feel, are reminiscent of a Douglas Sirk film. What becomes most interesting about the drama is how it uses those features to tell a frank coming-of-age story. The complex relationships circling around Pim (played with bold composure by Florizoone) creates a confining world, where few other people wander into. While Pim’s sexuality is certainly a strong theme throughout, his love for Gino isn’t represented as overly taboo, especially considering when the film is set. Rather, relationships between all the characters are illuminated as intertwining emotional issues, and both Pim and Sabrina’s unrequited love stories are told with equal emphasis.

Unlike comparable American teen films, Pim’s sexuality isn’t utilized to point out prejudices, but becomes part of a multifaceted drama, making the movie much more mature than the usual sex-driven teen drama. It’s a familiar genre where love and sexual exploration is key, but in North Sea Texas, high school hallways and misunderstanding parents are replaced by bleak landscapes and fascinatingly complicated interactions.