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+.