American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"North Sea Texas" is a toothless coming-of-age story set in a small Belgian town sometime around 1970. The movie is pleasant to look at; the props and sets, painted in hazy primary colors, seem as though they were carved out of glycerin soap. But while the movie is often pretty, it's only intermittently compelling. Lacking much depth or spark, "North Sea Texas" feels like a short film stretched to feature length; its flaws — inertness, tissue-thin characterizations — are the sorts of things that can pass by unnoticed in a fifteen-minute movie, but get a little boring after an hour.
It's no surprise, then, that writer-director Bavo Defurne is a veteran of the short film circuit; though "North Sea Texas" is his first feature, Defurne has in fact been making movies for more than two decades. Some of these movies have been quite good. "Campfire" (2000), for instance, centers on two teenage boys who develop a mutual attraction while out on a camping trip with their scout troop. It's sensitive, intelligent, and just 21 minutes long.
Though "North Sea Texas" is adapted from a young adult novel, it in many ways feels like a remake of "Campfire." Like the earlier film, it tells the story of a mutual attraction between two teenage boys — 15-year old Pim (Jelle Florizoone) and his 18-year old best friend, Gino (Mathias Vergels). As in "Campfire," one of the boys — in this case Gino — has a girlfriend. Both films also make symbolic use of tents — as innocent, intimate meeting places — and bodies of water (a lake in "Campfire," the North Sea in "North Sea Texas").
So why is it that "Campfire" is engrossing, while "North Sea Texas" is frequently dull? The problem comes down to underdevelopment. "North Sea Texas" has many characters: Gino's sister, who has a crush on Pim; Pim's irresponsible, accordion-playing mother, Yvette; the sleazy man who drives Yvette to her accordion gigs; a tattooed Bulgarian carnival worker who rooms in Pim's house; Gino's saintly, sickly mother. Not one of these, however, is developed past a basic thumbnail sketch — not even Pim, who is ostensibly the center of the movie.