The allure and the danger of the coming-of-age genre will continue to drive legions of filmmakers to put their personal stamp on those heady years of puberty. Since everyone has their own story to recall (or block out, as the case may be), films of this nature have universal appeal. The challenge is to find a distinctive voice, given that virtually every dramatic possibility has already been written, filmed or brought to the stage.
Happily, in director/co-writer (along with Yves Verbraeken; book by André Sollie) Bavo Defurne’s caring hands, his début feature makes the novel come to magnificent cinematic life in a way Sollie could never have dreamed.
The entire film has a wonderful feel of Leaves of Grass: it’s visually poetic and deliberately paced (some will find this too slow, but they probably haven’t smelled any roses in a long while). Like Whitman’s famous oak tree, young (Ben Van den Heuvel) then older (Jelle Florizoone) Pim—back to the audience—spread their limbs wide to embrace the twin lights of discovery and despair.
Magically the dunes, grasses and tides of Belgium’s stretch of the North Sea are woven into the fabric, adding quiet discretion to the tastefully rendered sex scenes, and ideally underpin the inevitable frustrations when Pim’s dreams of life with the purposely seductive Gino (Mathias Vergels) or the sexually ambiguous Zoltan (Thomas Coumans) are on display. And who knew that seemingly pedantic recitals of the alphabet could have such an emotional impact when all vowels and consonants were given their due?
Myriad details also reinforce Bavo’s vision from a trademark Chianti bottle reappearing as a candleholder through to Pim suddenly opting to wear singlets once his equally attired boarder shares a couple of glances that hint strongly at “Why not now?”
Music also plays an important part in this production’s success. What a delight to have Pim’s mother Yvette (Eva van der Gucht)—the former beauty queen who provides Pim with his first dress-up wardrobe, leaving no doubt as to his secret desires—is an accordion playing chanteuse whose carnal proclivity fits her “squeeze box” talents to a T. Her “driver” is an over-the-top pig (Luk Wyns) who serves his purpose as the foil to the younger set but suffers from an overdose of stereotypical behaviour (including greedily wiping the frying pan with bread …). At various times Yvette serenades the men in her life, including a snippet from Waldteufel’s Les Patineurs Waltz (there’s lots of skating in this tale of sudden and unrequited love) that morphs effortlessly into the full orchestration. Indeed, Adriano Cominotto’s original score is awash in delectable colours (notably the childlike celeste and heavenly bits of chorus), string accents (courtesy of the Sergio Bigones Quartet, featuring crystal clear pizzicati), some brushes-rich jazz and the svelte vocal stylings of Renée Sys.
To round out the main storyline of Pim’s quest for love (soon to discover he is more successful at drawing his intended’s images than getting into and under their skin) Gino’s ”crazy” mother (Katelijne Damen) and Pim-smitten sister (Nina Marie Kortekaas) provide a timely, revelatory departure and stoic maternalism respectively.
As competent as the acting is, it’s the filmmaking that brings this coming-of-age saga into the realm of brilliantly crafted cinema. JWR