Review: Bullhead

Yesterday I went into New York City to spend a full day watching foreign films–two of the nominees for this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (my review of one of the nominees, A Separation, is below). They both were playing at the Angelika, which is a prime location for art films in New York. I checked my records and realize I have now seen almost 50 movies there in the 22 years since it opened (the first was The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover). The Angelika positively reeks of classy cinemaphilia, even though it’s not necessarily a great place to see a movie.

The first film I saw was Bullhead, a Belgian film from Michael R. Roskam. I learned two very important things from this film: one–Belgium is made of two regions, Flanders and Wallonia, that speak different languages and hate each other; and two–there is something called the “hormone mafia,” which sounds like the name of a punk rock band but is instead a criminal network that traffics in illegal growth hormones for cattle.

It is in this world that Bullhead is set. The main character is Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts), a vacant-eyed thug who works for his family’s farm, mostly intimidating others into buying from his outfit. His farm is set to do a deal brokered by a crooked veterinarian to supply hormones to a criminal syndicate. But when a policeman who was working on the case is murdered, Schoenaerts wants to pull out. Things are also complicated in that one of the criminals is a childhood friend who witnessed a particularly vicious attack on Schoenaerts as a boy. I won’t go into detail on this attack, but suffice it to say men in the audience will likely be crossing their legs.

Bullhead, as the title may suggest, is about masculinity. Schoenaerts is like a bull, but without all the components that make up a man. He overcompensates, injecting himself with a wide variety of types of testosterone that make him rage. He is sweet on the sister of the boy who attacked him, but doesn’t quite know how to go about courting her.

The quarrel between the Flemish and the Walloons is also a theme. The Flemish speak Dutch, the Walloons French, and some don’t speak the other’s language. A hapless pair of Walloon auto mechanics, who are enlisted to get rid of a stolen car, are at the mercy of the Flemish syndicate, and both belittle the other. According to these mechanics, some of the Flemish crooks are also nationalists who believe in all-Flemish Belgium, and thus are labeled fascists.

I enjoyed this film, though the script and direction both hammer the theme home a little too hard, as if the main character were trying to bludgeon it into our heads. In some respects it is a routine crime drama that is enlivened by its unusual setting. It is in no way, shape, or form better than A Separation. Tomorrow, the review of the second film I saw.

My grade for Bullhead: B+.


About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

4 responses »

  1. The Angelika is great in theory, but horrible in practice when you actually go to enjoy a movie. Very poor ‘presentation theater’.

  2. The Angelika is great in theory, but horrible in practice when you actually go to enjoy a movie. Very poor ‘presentation theater’.

    Completely agree. The same is true of Film Forum, which doesn’t even have a raked auditorium. I think the problem is that both were existing buildings that were not theaters.

  3. I always liked the Angelika Dallas well enough, even though the projection staff could be clueless, and the Angelika Plano is also very nice. Never heard anything good about the New York one, though.

    I see now that the Angelika Houston has closed, which I also enjoyed visiting when I lived there. Too bad.

  4. Yeah, the Angelika is quite bad presentation-wise. The IFC Center is ok, although I’ve only been in the smaller, upstairs screening rooms (not the main auditorium).

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