Bullhead: Belgium's Oscar Nominee

Michaël R. Roskam makes an impressive feature debut as writer and director of “Bullhead,” which represents Belgium at the Oscars. (“Bullhead” is Belgium’s sixth Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign-Language category).

 

Defying easy generic categorization, “Bullhead” contains the elements of a thriller (especially in the first reel), but it’s also a touching melodrama, offering a tragic look at the body, soul, and psyche one damaged man. 

On one level, “Bullhead” is an emotionally driven tale of revenge, redemption and fate set against the backdrop of the Belgian bovine hormone mafia.

The story starts with young cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is approached by a seemingly unscrupulous veterinarian to make a shady deal with a notorious beef trader.

But the assassination of a federal policeman, and an unexpected confrontation with a mysterious secret from Jacky’s past, set in motion a chain of events with far-reaching consequences.

The flashbacks are inserted in the body of the narrative in a subtle yet powerful way, gradually revealing the portrait of a man from childhood onward.’

On another level, “Bullhead is a moving tragedy about fate, lost innocence and friendship, crime and punishment, but also about conflicting desires and the irreversibility of a man’s destiny.

At one point, Lucia (Jeanne Dandoy), a woman who owns a beauty store and had known Jacky as a young boy, states, “You are all animals,” thus summing up the film’s central subject.

Received its international première at the Berlin International Film Fest, “Bullhead” went on touring at international fests around the globe, including Toronto. Over the past year, the film already won over 25 awards at such fests as AFI Fest LA, Palm Springs, Austin, Montréal, Vancouver, Beaune, Les Arcs, Moscow, Motovun and Manresa.

Earlier on this year, “Variety” selected Roskam as one of its “10 Directors to Watch,” and you can see why.  Roskam moves his tale in unexpected directions; you never really know where the story is going, or when a flashback would be inserted.  Nothing is obvious or too explicit about a film that deals with a significant moral and social issue.
Alongside the director, “Bullhead” also signaled the international breakthrough for the lead actor, Matthias Schoenaerts. To play Jacky, Matthias reportedly went through a true and deep metamorphosis.

His performance put him on the radar of French helmer Jacques Audiard (A Prophet), who cast him for the male lead, together with Oscar-winning actress Marillon Cotillard, in his new film, “Rust and Bone.”

Matthias Schoenaerts will next be seen in “The Loft, alongside James Marsen, Wentworth Miller and Eric Stonestreet.

Some harsh critics (not me) may fault “Bullhead” for being pretentious and portentous.   For my part, I find the film revelatory and significant in what it has to say about masculinity (as defined by societal norms) and senselessly brutal conduct.  

Credits

Bullhead is produced by Bart Van Langendonck for Savage Film, in co-production with Eyeworks (BE), Artémis Production (BE) and Waterland Film (NL). International sales are handled by Celluloid Dreams. ‘We are both surprised and extremely excited,” says Van langendonck about the nomination. ‘We thank the Belgian Oscar committee for giving Bullhead this opportunity, and we’re of course happy that we’ve been able to qualify for a nomination.’