Though a Belgian film with no internationally known actors may not be your first choice, here’s one really worth seeking out. An intricate plot concerning a Flemish criminal ring peddling hormones to cattle farmers provides the premise to Bullhead, a gangster film that unexpectedly develops into a poignant exploration of solitude and estrangement.
Jacky, a 30-something beef farmer, has been born into the cattle trade, of which dealing in illegal hormones to boost production is an integral part. Scarred by a violent trauma suffered in childhood, he lives isolated on his farm with his mother and brother, alienated from the outside world and deeply resentful.
Accidental involvement in a police investigation sets off a series of events that bring him back in contact with people from his childhood, unleashing his demons and culminating in a ferocious climax.
The film plays with psychoanalytic symbolism to great effect, drawing parallels between Jacky and the bulls he farms and thus painting a compelling portrait of a personality torn apart by trauma; a demanding role Schoenaerts fully lives up to.
Stylistically, the film is just as assertive, with scenes of stupefying intensity – the flashback to the pivotal event in Jacky’s life is so powerful that the audience, too, is left marked by the experience.
The first feature by writer/director Roskam, Bullhead is in many ways reminiscent of the Danish gangster film Pusher. The latter, also a debut, kick-started a fruitful career for its director who is now a respected auteur. It’s premature to expect the same of Roskam, but it’s definitely a promising start.
Rundskop (Bullhead) | Directed by Michael R. Roskam (Belgium 2011) with Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeroen Perceval. French and Belgian OV. Starts November 24