When I found this film on Netflix at 3 o’clock in the morning I thought it was just going to be another cheaply made LGBT film that doesn’t really offer anything of substance but rather trades on the no-longer-very-novel fact of it’s main characters being gay. Films like these are usually at best serviceable if cheesy romances and at worst they seem like student film rejects.
Jongens (or Boys in the U.S.) transcends all of that. What I initially thought was going a fairly disposable film turned about a very poignant and realistic look at a young summer love. About two boys who meet on a track team and form a secret relationship, Jongens eschews the typical genre trapping of LBGT romances. The film is very focused, running at only 80 minutes. With strong performances from the two leads and beautiful cinematography that reaches higher than the TV movie platform it started from, Jongens is a quiet film whose earnest but beautiful crafting matches the romance it so deftly conveys.
Writing/Plot | Sometimes films talk too much. Jongens doesn’t really talk at all. And that might be the most successful aspect of this film, it’s willingness to throw away words as much as possible. Too often romance films, especially of the young adult variety, will fall back on large declaration and melodramatics. Jongens avoids that deftly with a dialogue that is sparse but cutting. It never tells us what Sieger (Gijs Blom) is feeling and that is to its benefit because largely Sieger doesn’t know how he’s feeling himself. Everything is in the subtext, and that gives the words that are used much more weight. When Marc (Ko Zandvliet) asks “do you have a girlfriend?” it’s jolting not only to Sieger but to the viewer as well. In real life people talk around the things they’re feeling because they are hard for us to express let alone communicate effectively. So we say things without really saying them. This is the meaning of subtext. And it makes it all the more when impactful when that subtext is cut through and words because louder and sharper because they have room to land.
|The composition here neatly juxtaposes the two very different
reactions to Marc and Sieger’s first kiss.
Acting | None of the sparse dialogue would be effective if capable actors couldn’t communicate emotively. Fortunately for the film, these young actors were more than up for the task. Gijs Blom and Ko Zandvliet are two rising stars that have a natural chemistry with each other. Everything the dialogue isn’t saying is read right on their faces. For such a quiet character Gijs really plays Seiger with an large amount of compassion. As I stated before the dialogue in this movie is sparse and more often dancing around the actual emotions so it’s up to actor to bring out real story in this film. You can see how much Sieger cares for people even if he’s not confident expressing it. Ko is sort of his opposite, everything on the surface and nothing to hide, he has a natural charisma but can play heartbreak that’s quiet but believable. And the supporting cast is nothing to sneeze at either. Though Jonas Smulders plays Eddy a little bit too close to a rebel brother stereotype it doesn’t take away from what is largely a talented and committed cast.
Cinematography/Directing | Characters rarely articulate their feelings in this film instead they act on them. I don’t have to be told that Seiger’s father doesn’t want him riding bikes because of his wife’s motor accident. I can see how nervous it makes him. You can see how much Sieger cares about his father even he himself is closed off emotionally from him, sitting at the edge of the bed, unlike Ed who is curled up right beside him. Ed and his father begin to play fight as Seiger awkwardly tries to save the breakfast plate from falling over.
This scene tell you all you need to know about the two boys’ relationship with their father without saying a word. Ed’s is one of closeness and fraternity and Sieger’s is more distant but still caring. It’s a relationship established visually, through blocking and framing.
In one of my favorite shots of the film Seiger is talking to his father about Eddy’s whereabouts while Marc sort of lingers behind unbeknownst to Theo. It’s visual manifestation of Sieger’s emotional state and the secrets he’s hiding from father and how they quite literally put a wall between him and Marc’s relationship.
The last shot I want to focus is one my favorites. After Eddy and Theo have a big fight Seiger is left alone with father. Knowing his father feels deeply hurt by what Eddy said, Sieger decides to leave his father to see Marc. As he bicycles away the camera cuts to a very long shot of the house. And far to the right in a lit window of the kitchen you can see Theo defeatedly lower his head as his son bikes away. It’s a devastating shot that highlights how small and isolated his father’s pain is.
|The warm yellow light against the cool blue of the rest of scene draws your eye toward window to have you notice something you may not have. The father’s suffering.|
Flaws | The one thing that takes away from this film is the subplot between Eddy and his father. It is abandoned almost completely towards the end of the film. In one scene the father talks about bailing Ed out of jail, and without any plot movement in between, he is suddenly buying his son a moped. There was no resolution to their conflict whatsoever. It’s almost as if the writer cut the whole emotional climax of Ed and his father. Even though I didn’t really care about the two of them it was more than a little jarring to see the 180 that their father did without any sort of explanation.
Overall Thoughts | Normally I find films like this disposable. And in a sense they’re meant to be. They breeze in, amuse you, and fly out as fast as they came. Like the summer romances so many of them describe, they are temporary, meant to be forgotten once fall begins. But what elevates this teen flick beyond that of its peers is it’s commitment to the craft of smart film making. It doesn’t take any shortcuts but makes very smart and efficient use of it’s time. Every scene and frame is purposeful and thought out, and conveys a respect for the audience to connect with the characters directly–showing us how they feel instead of telling us. With deft acting and often arresting visual tableau, this film takes an otherwise standard plot of boy meets boy and transforms into a coming of age film everyone should watch.
This movie is really about how scary and wonderful it is to find that first crush, to find that first romance. While so many films in this genre will drag down a film with big moments of what it all means, this film is quite content just creating a truly joyous mood and emphasizing that as much as possible. There are no big moments in this film, no coming out, no first sexual experience, no declaration of love, nothing that marks and sometimes marks films of this genre. It’s about a relationship that’s sensual but not largely innocent, sweet but not saccharine. It’s about experiencing a love you can’t articulate, it’s about being in the moment with someone completely. “I run at my best when I don’t think about anything“. I think the film lives by this quota. This film has no agenda, it doesn’t really have anything to say, it’s just wants to show you something, something quite beautiful to be honest.