Director Bavo Defurne on Making ’North Sea Texas’
Perhaps no one knows more about the pure exhilaration of a first kiss with a gorgeous, dark-haired lad with the softest lips than a lonely, lovesick gay boy growing up along a desolate stretch of beach. My favorite snapshot of Harvey Milk dates back to a summer day in 1956. The lanky, former Navy Seal is cuddling with a dreamy kid named Joe on the beach at Jacob Riis Park in Far Rockaway, Queens. This scene didn’t make it into either Milk movie, although it’s the only moment from the hero’s life that would have really helped this lonely, then-12-year-old gay boy.
All these years later, someone has finally made my gay-boy beach movie, shooting it, curiously enough, along Belgium’s North Sea coast. "North Sea Texas" opens on the face of an 8-year-old blonde urchin who’s been taken for his birthday to what Belgians refer to as a "fun fair." The boy, Pim, is watching a group of grown-ups a few feet away when suddenly he runs over to a tall, dark stranger, and leaps into his arms. The man is neither his daddy nor his brother, nor his future lover. Zoltan, a tattooed gypsy, is the kind of slightly older, godlike creature who can inspire a happy swoon in an eight-year-old just discovering the magnetic pull of his own sex.
In the next frame Pim has invaded his mom’s bedroom and uncovered the treasures of her adolescence: a fake gold crown and the red sash of a beauty-contest queen. The boy throws open the window and, bowing to an unseen admiring throng outside, declares that he is their queen. He’s caught in his reverie by his now-plump, middle-aged mom, who smiles with embarrassment. "Pim, come downstairs, boy. Mama is not angry."
The Belgium "New Wave" continues to lap onto our screens. Writer/director Bavo Defurne reworks the classic coming-of-age tale to reveal the cruel fate of a young boy, tucked away in an isolated seacoast community in the early 1970s, who finds his true love at 15, only to have it rudely ripped away by the fickle fate of his chum’s belief that he’s outgrown their backyard wrestling. Pim (Ben Van den Heuvel, as the younger boy, morphs into the gorgeous teen Jelle Florizoone), a sheltered and parentally neglected lad, spends much of his spare time caught up in cross-dressing reveries involving his often absent mom’s wardrobe and jewelry.
Defurne places his story in a sumptuously photographed setting that resembles some seaside Oz. Particularly striking is the Texas roadhouse bar from which the film derives its geographically paradoxical title. Faithful followers of Frameline’s world-class queer-boy shorts programs will recognize the singular style of Dutch-speaking Belgian filmmaker Defurne, whose largely dialogue-free dreamscapes - Saint, Sailor, Campfire - have fueled a desire to see what he could do with a full-length feature canvas. A crisis which completely up-ended nonprofit film funding in Belgium delayed this debut. It’s been a dozen years since we saw his rough summer-love short Campfire. My conversation with Bavo Defurne covered everything from Belgian parents fearful of letting their sons try out to be Pim, to the Billy Elliot syndrome, to his own giddy pleasure at having North Sea Texas debut in a dozen film markets.
David Lamble: What was the title, in English, of the youth novel North Sea Texas is based on?
Bavo Defurne: Translated from Dutch, This is Everlasting. It means the feeling Pim has when he’s riding on the motorcycle with Gino. He has him in his arms, and thinks it’s a very beautiful moment, and hopes that it is everlasting.
It’s almost his 15th birthday, and he thinks he’s found love everlasting. That’s a wonderful idea.
When I read the book [by Andre Sollie], I discovered that you can actually tell a story about gay boys and it would be about something beautiful, not about something depressing.
Gino feels he’s outgrown Pim, that Pim was like a way-station so he could go with girls.