Foreign films are cool. Because they're foreign, and they speak foreign languages, and they have plots you'd never see in America, like Bullhead, about a steroid-fueled cattle farmer named Jacky Vanmarsenille who gets involved with a criminal meat trader (those exist?) and is forced to face his tragic childhood as federal agents begin to investigate an assassination of one of their colleagues... Who comes up with this stuff?
Oh yeah. People like writer/director Michael R. Roskam, who makes movies, like Bullhead, that are nominated for Academy Awards.
Bullhead is up for Best Foreign Language Film, and you can see why. Its premise is just kooky enough, its characters just colorful enough and its plot just sad and disturbing enough to work in ways that it has no right to.
Roskam uses a somber pallet to paint the Belgium countryside as a dark, depressing place full of secrets and innocence lost. Every aspect of the movie feeds from this canvas, from its collection of colorful but tragic characters to its seedy and strange but far from wild story.
Matthias Schoenarrts turns in one of the oddest, subtlest and confusing performances in memory. He is both the film's greatest piece and its big weakness. He plays a meathead -or in this case, a Bullhead - a slightly simple but far from stupid young man whose identity is lost in a swirling concoction of steroids and hormones. He's Lennie Small on steroids - literally - someone who wants to do good but can't, his destiny predetermined by a childhood incident that is shocking and too disturbing to put into words here.
Schoenarrts plays the role perfectly, and yet the character is so distant, so locked away from what he once was that it's nearly impossible to relate to him. There's a small part of me that feels for Jacky, but mainly he deserves what he gets. He's the protagonist and antagonist and Roskam's decision to leave which he is in the end up to the audience doesn't entirely work.
When the end credits rolled, Bullhead left me shrugging my shoulders, not at the movie per se but at the character the movie is about. He suffered, he lived and he made decisions that defined his life. What happens to him is shrug worthy. Maybe that's the point, but I wish it wasn't. It's hard to say whether Schoenaerts' performance is fantastic or forgettable.
Still, there's something about Bullhead that's alluring. The fact that you never know how you're supposed to feel. The realization that if not for one minute decision as a child, Jacky would have been an entirely different person. The acceptance that foreign films are cool, because they are in foreign languages and have plots about beefed up cattle farmers that get involved with criminals and murder. That's Bullhead.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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