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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A gathering of scientists discuss, design and, eventually, pile into a spacecraft that takes them on a fantastic journey to our nearest satellite.  This simple outline constitutes the majority of the action in Georges Méliès' groundbreaking 1902 fantasy short, Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon).

The Extraordinary Voyage tells the tale of how Méliès came to develop the techniques and audience that would allow him to undertake what was the most ambitious film-making production of its time, described as both the first international blockbuster and the Avatar of the silent era.

Interviews with Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen), Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Costa-Gavras (Z) and, oddly, Tom Hanks (The Da Vinci Code) establish Méliès position in the canon as the first filmmaker to break away from the film as mere document, introducing dramatic devices pulled from the stage.

The crux of The Extraordinary Voyage is of more modern concern, detailing the discovery of a hand-colored version of Le Voyage dans la Lune and the painstaking restoration of that print.  The piece does a good job of detailing the challenges of the process without dwelling too long on the technical aspects of the task.  And its easy as a viewer to root for the restoration team and their small victories as the film is rescued frame by frame.

The real treat of the presentation, however, comes after the documentary reaches its end.  The chance to see the restored, color version of A Trip to the Moon projected on a large screen is not to be missed.  Featuring a new soundtrack by the French musical duo Air, A Trip to the Moon vibrates with an unexpected amount of energy, more than a century after its conception.  

Contemporary audiences may have endless amounts of onscreen fantasies and spectacle to choose from nowadays, but this is a rare opportunity to see one of the earliest examples as it was meant to be experienced, in a theater setting.  Do not pass it up.

The Extraordinary Voyage will screen for the public at the World Trade Center Theater tonight (Feb. 10th) at 8:45pm and at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 12th at 3pm.

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