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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner


Starring: Jorum Schurmans, Koen Van Heule

Director: Bavo Defurne

Peccadillo Pictures' DVD series Boys On Film has been releasing its collections of the best LGBT short films for years, but in Campfire it has gathered together the short films of Belgian director Bavo Defurne, whose movie North Sea Texas is a classic of modern LGBT cinema. In this collection of four short films, Defurne explores young men's sexual awakenings, depicting them as both tender and luscious, giving his characters space to breathe whilst lingering with his camera long enough to truly capture his subjects' beauty. All four films are introspective and thoughtful, choosing to focus on the moment adolescence gives way to sexual maturity.

The eponymous Campfire is the longest and most developed of the films. Starring Schurmans and Van Heule as a pair of childhood best friends who have gone to a summer camp together, the film explores the moment that their friendship gives way to something more as the sexual tension between them finally explodes. Sparse on dialogue, the film opts for sensual close-ups and long protracted shots of their faces as they yearn for one another. But this isn't a love story. The camp is depicted as highly masculine as the boys compete for top dog, trying to prove their manhood despite their childish clothing.

Schurmans is compelling as Tijl, who has brought his girlfriend to the camp as a smokescreen, but Van Heule is mesmeric as Wout, hyper-masculine and over-confident. Both are equally as confused as each other, but they deal with it in different ways. Tijl is happy to explore his sexuality in secret, but Wout simply cannot, seeing his feelings for his friend as both threat and curse. When he gives in to his desire he gives in to it totally, but afterwards is overwhelmed by shame. Where the characters are scared of their sexuality, the camera certainly isn't, with close-ups on their skin gleaming in the sunlight or beaded with water from the lake. They spend much of their time on screen in little more than trunks, looking, watching and yearning for each other, while the camera captures not just their desire, but also reveals exactly its object.

Alongside Campfire are three additional shorter films. Sailor shows a brief encounter between a boy and a sailor, while Saint depicts the violent death of Saint Sebastian without its characters uttering a word in what feels like early Kenneth Anger. Also, Particularly Now, In Spring shows the athleticism of young men as almost godlike, in what seems a tribute to Leni Riefensthal's Olympia. Together, this compilation of Defurne's short films is comprehensive in its exploration of young male beauty, epitomised by the latter, where there is no explicit reference to homosexuality, but instead a depiction of male beauty that only hints ever-so-subtly to something more than friendship between the boys. The boys revel in each others' beauty, but in contrast in Saint, the characters see Sebastian's beauty with such lust that their jealousy has transformed into hatred. Where Sailor and Particularly Now, In Spring give us positivity in desire, Saint and Campfire give us its destructive power too.

Defurne's early work displays a real understanding of the delicacy of young homosexual desire. Without wisdom, experience or foresight, the characters of each film are acting on instincts they are yet to understand. By shooting in black and white, on celluloid, or for Campfire with a glowing late summer palette, Defurne has imbued each film with a nostalgia that makes them feel like small slices of history, rather than being short pieces of modern cinema. For most of us, our own sexual awakenings can seem like distant memories, so in reflection of this, these films are idyllic and wistful, like short fragmented memories drip-fed through an Instagram filter, making for somewhat dreamlike viewing when watched in their totality.


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