A coming-of-age tale of love and sport, Boys proves sweet, sincere, picturesque and poignant in treading familiar ground.
When 15-year-old athlete Sieger (Gijs Blom, Painkillers) is promoted to join the next tier of runners in his relay squad, he trains with his new teammate, Marc (Ko Zandvliet, Icehorse), the film looking up at their huddled figures and open, enthusiastic stares from below. When the duo later goes swimming in a nearby pond with two others, staying behind after their friends leave, recognising their swelling attraction and stealing their first kiss, their content, comforted smiles are gazed at from above.
In the tender and graceful Boys (Jongens), the would-be paramours are forever making their feelings plain in silent looks plastered across their young faces, with director Mischa Kamp (Tony 10) and cinematographer Melle van Essen (Disruption) matching moods to chosen camera angles. First, both are keen, curious and conspiratorial; next, they are wondrous and looking at the world differently. Aping the frequently non-verbal communication typical of adolescents, the feature says more with its framing of Sieger and Marc’s expressions than it does with words.
So the film builds, patiently and quietly exploring two teens circling around each other, navigating societal expectations and preparing for an upcoming championship race. Sieger is cautious courtesy of the watchful control of his single father (Ton Kas, Mannenharten) and rebellious older brother (Jonas Smulders, The Dinner), the former constantly reacting to the latter. He is also continually cognisant of his best friend, Stef (Stijn Taverne, Dutch TV’s Spangas), who spearheads the standard push towards finding a girlfriend. In contrast, Marc is more carefree and unguarded in his approach, in general and in his flirtation with and pursuit of their relationship.
This isn’t the first feature to tell a tale of blossoming love, of opposites attracting or of a summer romance, nor is it unique in its charting of a coming-of-age experience tied to an awakening and acceptance of sexuality, or conveyed with a mixture of sporting motifs. What Boys is, though, is sweet and sincere in treading familiar ground, and picturesque and poignant, too. Its storyline may feel derivative at times, and some of its dialogue clichéd, but the film remains perfectly synchronised in its aesthetics and sentiments from start to finish.
In doing so with both tenderness and thoughtfulness, Kamp favours intimacy at every turn. Boys strives to create not only a relatable portrait of seeking affection and carving out an identity, but one that feels as insular and immediate to the audience as it does to the protagonists. Conversations are kept close, often alternating between tight frames focused on faces with nothing else in focus. Silence echoes loudest through the script co-written by Henk Burger (After the Tone), Jaap-Peter Enderle (Speelman) and Chris Westendorp (Confetti Harvest), with an energetic pop soundtrack and a tense instrumental score alternating to help evoke interior emotions.
Accordingly, much is placed on Blom and Zandvliet to conjure the requisite yearning, uncertainty and relief, in turn. Both offer finessed performances in tune with the atmosphere of observation, as their characters drift from the competition of the racetrack to the shelter of the surrounding woodland. Their portrayals are as sensitive as the film is delicate, and as steeped in symbolism. With their help, Boys conveys much about its well-worn scenario, proving at its most authentic when showing rather than telling.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Director: Mischa Kamp
The Netherlands, 2014, 78 mins
Mardi Gras Film Festival
February 19 – March 5
Melbourne Queer Film Festival
March 19 – 30