Bavo Defurne’s North Sea Texas offered an aesthetic palette cleanse: refreshing in its sweet, youthful innocence and balanced by realistic moments of questioning, struggle, and heartbreak. Though billed as the sometimes clichéd “coming-of-age” story, this film went beyond the typical into a more artistic and eloquent journey of discovery told through innovative screenwriting, breathtaking cinematography and use of color, and brilliant acting by the young male leads. As Thom Kishaba states, “Defurne also displayed a great sense of control in his directing, becoming almost Wes Anderson-esque. He has a great sense of space as a director and utilizes both his indoor and outdoor environments to their full potential, both aesthetically and meaningfully.” This sense of restraint can also be the downfall of the film, seeming at times aimless or wandering. The images of long stretches of beach, sand, grasses, and water all offer an expansiveness that, at times, makes audiences uncomfortable. Just as we are socially accustomed to small boxes and labels for our identities, we too sometimes expect a tighter frame and narrower focus to define than Defurne’s style allows for. Personally, I find the ambiguity entirely poignant and symbolic in that way though. Much like the concept of fluidity in sexuality or a continuum of gender expression, there are no boundaries to the landscapes he depicts.
And just as the physical spaces remain without boundaries, so too does the quality of sound, giving audiences a truly sensory experience. Defurne, Taylor Kuether observed, “Uses silence as a form of dialogue. The film is filled with expanses of silence that the viewer doesn’t notice are long until they’re finally broken. The film’s quietness couples with the enormous expanses of Belgian landscape (usually fields or sea, always largely empty) further illustrate Pim’s solitude.” Though silence can sometimes feel uncomfortable, in this film, there is safety in it. In quiet there is opportunity, freedom to surrender the mind to thought and contemplation. Silence offers time and peace to find comfort in one’s self, just as Pim does in the end. This was an innovative and moving piece of storytelling and one that embodies the Frameline36 quest to “Find Your Story.”