Bullhead (original title Rundskop)

As you may or may not know (depending on whether or not you are a local toon town citizen) the 2012 edition of the Dark Bridges Film Festival took place last weekend.  Like last year I decided to pick up a full festival pass and was able to attend a good portion of the films screened. I missed a few more this year due to a concert taking place on the Saturday evening I already had tickets for, and it was worth it to see Ghost!!  But anyway, once again, I’m going to review the flicks I watched since this festival has also, once again, introduced me to several movies I had not heard of that deserve to be seen.

The first film shown, Bullhead, was actually nominated for best foreign film at the last Oscar Awards(I don’t watch them so I wasn’t aware of this previously).  I’d recommend watching this movie prior to reading my review because it has very good pacing and gradually reveals information about characters throughout the movie that keeps you wanting to know more, my review is going to spoil some of those surprises because it’s pretty impossible to talk about the movie in all but the vaguest of terms otherwise.

It’s a brooding crime drama in a setting and involving a crime syndicate I’ve not previously seen represented in a movie before so that right off the bat is refreshing.  This is a Belgian film about a group of cattle farmers who happen to be part of a hormone syndicate. The main character, Jackie Vanmarsenille isn’t just giving hormones to his cattle, he’s also taking all manner of steroids and hormones himself, thus becoming the "Bullhead" as the film is titled. Throughout the movie he tends to be the “bull in the china shop” clumsily ruining everything in his life because of his uncontrollable temper and brute strength. Not only that, but like the tragedy that is a bull's life, he's on a life path that can only lead to one end, death and slaughter.

The thing is Jackie has a tragic past and a reason behind his rage and his abuse of steroids which is revealed through flash backs where he has his balls smashed with a brick when he's a young boy by the mentally disturbed (challenged?  It wasn’t that clear) son of one of the members of the syndicate.  His childhood friend at the time witnesses the “accident”, as the police are later told, and does nothing to stop it. Instead he keeps his mouth shut when he should be speaking for him because his father, partner to Jackie’s father, is too afraid to speak out against the hormone supplier. Their friendship is broken and in order to remain masculine Jackie is forced to constantly inject himself with testosterone from that time forward, and his masculinity issues (understandably) have caused a psychosis in which he has to continuously take his use of hormones and steroids further and further so he can feel like a man (kind of like how an anorexic thinks they're fat no matter how skinny they get).

The performances are solid all around, but the actor who played Jackie (Matthias Schoenaerts) really nails it.  You totally believe he actually is jacked up on all of the shit he shoots into his ass cheek throughout this movie.  His physique and facial structure totally sells it.  I looked up some photos of him online to see if that was how he normally looked, and it looks like they may have done some makeup to make his nose bigger (more like a bull’s snout I suspect in keeping with that parallel) and his face more exaggerated in its features like someone who takes too much testosterone probably would look.  Also, I’d say he definitely pumped some iron before this movie as well, because the guy is pretty fucking jacked.    Yup, just checked IMDB and he had to put on 27 Kilos of muscle mass for the role, that’s like 60 fucking pounds of muscle mass, holy shit!  So maybe no makeup was required since you don't get that kind of muscle mass without hittin a little of the juice in real life too. He's always pacing around and breathing really laboriously like the hormones are too much for his body to handle (and also kind of mimicking a bull mannerisom again). On top of that though he does a very good job of portraying a man who lives in a constant state of paranoia and self pity, a man who has lived his life since childhood missing what biologically makes him male and having to try and compensate for it both by giving his body the chemicals it needs for him to keep his masculinity, but also be constantly and aggressively over inserting himself as an alpha male by beating the shit out of people and intimidating them with his size.

Of course as fate would have it, Jackie ends up being re-united with his old childhood friend Diederik Maes (played by Jeroen Perceval, who also does a very good job of portraying a man wracked with guilt and trying to do the right thing, but who is never able to really succeed) who is now a homosexual police informant (betcha didn’t see that one coming), and expectedly things aren’t too cool between these two gentlemen.  On top of this, Jackie decides to start pursuing a crush from his childhood days (sister to the crazy ballsmasher), but things don’t work out too well for him there either.  I guess it probably goes without saying, but this is definitely not a feel good picture we are dealing with here.  If you’re looking to be uplifted, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.  If you’re hoping for some sort of revenge flick where Jackie gets back at all of those who wronged him and comes out on top, you will be disappointed.  This is the type of movie that is much more true to life.  Most people do not get what they want in life, and this isn’t the typical Hollywood horseshit story where someone has something tragic happen to them in their life but they are able to succeed in the end.  Even the way the film is shot is dreary and dark just like Jackie’s life, but just as beautiful as Jackie’s character is compelling and sympathetic (especially for me since I’m particularily attached to my balls). 

I definitely recommend this film to anyone looking to see something different and who can appreciate an intentionally slow paced character study with a unique criminal element.  If you enjoyed movies like Bronson (Tom Hardy had a similar physical transformation for that role) or Drive, this will probably be right up your alley.