One of the recurring moments in North Sea Texas finds the film’s young protagonist Pim (Jelle Florizoone) gently examining a small shoebox full of mementos. As you would imagine, it is filled with little reminders of the people and moments that have affected him most: a tiara and sash his brash mother won in a beauty contest many years back, photos, and most poignantly, throwaway items that once belonged to the young men that Pim is enamored with.
The shoebox is a fitting representation of the film as a whole: a tender coming-of-age story filled with those warm reminders of first crushes, first sexual fumblings, and first heartaches. Sure, in this case it focuses on a young teen coming to terms with his homosexuality and finding a willing explorer in his longtime best friend Gino (Mathias Vergels). But there is so much warmth and truth to the story that anyone who has survived an awkward adolescence will see some facet of themselves within it.
Yet heartbreakingly, the furtive couplings with Gino are some of the few moments of joy we see in Pim’s life. A young dreamer with a small talent for art, the teen is otherwise saddled with a mother more concerned about her own romantic life than anyone else’s existence. While Pim is a dutiful son, behind his eyes is the agony of a spirit waiting to burst free from his mundane life, which makes the sheer joy that washes over him when he and Gino are together so thrilling to witness. Give full credit for that transformation to Florizoone, a young Flemish actor in his first major role, who plays Pim with such spirit and sorrow.
Director Bavo Defurne and cinematographer Anton Mertens use of color throughout to emphasize nostalgia and reflection. North Sea Texas is awash in blues and greys, evoking a picture postcard of the seaside town that these characters call home. This seems to be in line with a particular European strand of coming-of-age stories, with 1996’s Beautiful Thing and the 1998 Swedish film Show Me Love both sharing a similarly steely pallor.
The only points when the palate onscreen leans toward warmer tones are the scenes in which Pim and Gino are ravishing each other. Defurne turns away from those moments quickly, but does make a potent political commentary by cutting from their embraces to shots of reeds blowing in the wind or the sea lapping against the shore. These acts of sexual congress, he says, are just as natural as the world around them.
The latter part of North Sea Texas throws Pim through an emotional wringer. Gino, who never wanted anyone to know about their dalliances, takes up with a young French girl and is rejected soundly by a young man boarding with he and his mother. But through it all — and through some unnecessary subplots and scenes that only drag this otherwise fine drama down — Defurne keeps the focus on Pim’s glassy eyes and shoulders that look like they are bearing the romantic weight of the world on them. Floorizone doesn’t shy away from the camera’s gaze, but meets it head on. By doing so, he helps the film soars, even when his character doesn’t.