Friday, February 10, 2012


The organized crime genre is a pretty crowded field but I'm fairly certain that Bullhead is the only film I've ever seen centered on the Flemish mafia.  Directed by Michael R. Roskam, Bullhead doesn't romanticize it's characters or their trade; these mobsters deal in bovine growth hormone, forcing the local ranchers and farmers of the Belgian countryside to produce "their cows."  The film begins just as a police investigator has been killed on the order of a crime boss.

If the crime angle is the wide view of the story, the close-in perspective lies with Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), a mountain of man whose own daily use of steroids and hormone treatment therapy darkly parallels the business in which he is an enforcer.  Roskam slowly paints the details of Jacky's back story, showing us how a young child of promise was turned into a man who intimidates for a living.  Schoenaerts plays Jackie as a maladjusted child in a giant's body, aching with loss, unable to connect with others, and placed into dire circumstances where he stands to lose everything.

This is a gritty, excellent character piece masquerading as a crime thriller.  The majority of Belgian cinema I've encountered has been inspired either by the Dardenne brothers or the wry comedy of Finland's Aki Kaurismäki (Eldorado or Aaltra are examples of the latter's influence).  In this regard, Bullhead feels fresh and without precedent in the realm of Belgian imports; its nearest comparisons in tone being Steve McQueen's Hunger or David Michôd's Animal Kingdom.  It's a fascinating and disturbing ride, well worth the price of admission.

Bullhead will screen for the public at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 11th at 12:30pm.  A second screening is scheduled on Feb. 14th at the Whitsell Auditorium at 8:45pm.

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