Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bulllhead (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

If you like your existential hunted man films to have a literal carnivorous edge, "Bullhead" (Roundskop) is cooked up especially for you. 

Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a violent Limburgish cattle farmer who was horribly abused as a kid, his genitals are severely damaged. So much so that he was forced to take injections of various hormones. Jacky goes from a 98 pound weakling of sorts to a massive hulk of a man. His chest is as broad and heavy as a refrigerator. Jacky is an angry Hercules, a ninth wonder. In some shots, his back fills the entire screen like a real life Tom of Finland male nude straining to be free of canvas. Yet in his eyes there are orbits that remain heartsick and cheated. His existence is of someone relentlessly prodded and who always watches his back for an oncoming dart. Jacky moves like a sandbagged boxer or someone lost in a better dream without meat in it, and his eyes have a sheepish animal desire.

Though we don't get a lot of information in the film, Jacky's family is involved with illegal hormones to fatten cows and to make them more profitable and they make an unscrupulous deal with the hormone mafia. A chance meeting with childhood friend Diederik (Jeroen Perceval) brings back the horrible event and Jacky becomes increasingly brutal and tormented but also vulnerable. The scenes of injection, violent drunkenness and animal slaughter are not for the delicate.

Though some might make comparisons here to the films of Scorsese, a better directorial calf to this film, would be Gaspar Noe, whose 1998 film "I Stand Alone" concerns a former butcher consumed by unbridled rage.  Both films share a kindred carnal knowledge of random bad decisions made toxic by violence and laced with the ennui of towns with not much going on. The films also share a cousinship in cinematography: dim neons coupled with dizzying long shots of turning corners and slanted doors. Fleshly life is seen squirming and disembodied.

Brutal as this film is, it could be a savage cautionary tale detailing the perils of eating meat. There is an actual C-section on a cow shown and the camera doesn't pull away. The world of MEAT is before us, full-frontal. Yet just when it almost becomes too squeamish, Jacky attempts to redeem himself by going into a beauty shop to see his childhood crush Lucia (Jeanne Dandoy). Jacky tries to communicate but can only grunt and look away, lowering his head like a shy steer trying to avoid attack. Lucia sprays him with perfume, but the scent is unwelcome and vexing, staining him like oil. These scenes are very touching like "Beauty and the Beast" or Frankenstein's creation. Jacky yearns for the softness of civility.

"Bullhead" is a film of blood and beasts but it has such a magnet in the form of Jacky that I found it hard to pull away. This is a genuine antihero story on the order of Albert Camus sitting down to Osso Buco. It may not be visual dessert and you probably won't ask for seconds,  but it is certainly worthy of its Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film this year and you shouldn't pass it up.

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