What Jongens lacks in tension, leads Gijs Blom and Ko Zandvliet make up for in charm in this enchanting story of first love.
Mischa Kamp’s Jongens (Boys) tells a familiar story of first love. Those early steps are quiet, tentative, and more than a little confusing for everyone involved. While the film breaks no new territory in the boy meets boy story, it is very competently shot with expressive performances from the two leads. Gijs Blom plays Sieg, a quiet 15 year-old involved in track. When the story opens, he is trying out for a national relay competition with his best friend, Tom (Myron Wouts). The third leg on the relay team is named Marc (Ko Zandvliet) and from the moment Sieg starts training with him, we sense that they will be getting to know each other as more than teammates.
As romantic couples go, Marc and Sieg are presented as being very different boys. Marc is free spirited with unconventional training methods, while Sieg goes about preparing for races with a more precise training regimen and a set of superstitious rituals. There isn’t enough distinction between the two boys to create complications that might prevent a bond from forming between them. There are sparks and very little heat since both boys are very nice.
The absence of complication follows the two throughout the Jongens. The main drama is created by Sieg himself, as he must decide whether to pursue Marc or a girl he met named Stef (Stijn Taverne) or perhaps try to keep them both. After the boys’ first kiss, Sieg lets Marc know that he isn’t gay, but despite that declaration, he doesn’t do much to stay away. He doesn’t do much to break away from his other commitments either, and if there is any tension in the film, it comes from Sieg’s inability to make his intentions clear to himself or Marc. Will that tension spill over into the boys’ race? It’s not the type of film where it will.
Jongens covers the sweetest part of first romance – the time before anyone needs to know and anyone would have reason to suspect what is going on. The first kiss is one of the more romantic ones I’ve seen recently and is very well laid out. Neither boy at that point of the film knows for certain that what he senses the other is feeling is real, so it starts with a few furtive touches of fingers that would pass without notice except if someone yearned to receive them. When hands aren’t withdrawn, a few more touches follow until two gentle kisses complete the sequence. Silence follows because nothing needs to be said and Sieg probably doesn’t want to talk about it. If one desires a crescendo in the score and crashing waves in the background, one might be disappointed, but the scenes of the two together throughout the film are relaxing and sweet. The boys are very good at staring at one another and Kamp is good at capturing those moments.
By the end of Jongens, Tom and most likely Stef suspect something is going on between the couple, but we don’t get to the point where either friend will confront the boys. Sieg’s widowed father (Ton Kas) has spent most of the movie dealing with a rebellious elder son, leaving the young Sieg to his own thoughts. Part of Sieg’s reluctance to move forward has been a feeling that he would burden his father with yet another problem. But it won’t be long after the final credits roll that the boys will end up telling someone or in a confrontation. Until that time, they will be happy getting to know one another. We should feel happy for them, too.