BULLHEAD – SLIFF Review
Review by Dane Marti
With a title like ‘Bull Head,’ you know the film has got to be either very good or very bad—but nothing in between. Luckily, it is a thought-provoking and grim slice of European life. And if you thought some of the movie might be a little intense, you are correct.
Soon after the main character, seen in flashback as a young boy, is beaten and abused by a mutated delinquent somewhere in the Belgium countryside, the boy, Jacky, is listening to his parents converse with a doctor in the family hallway. “Will the boy have any chance of recovery? Will he grow into a man or will the accident preclude him ever having a normal male existence ? Inside his room, the boy looks up at a crucifix on his wall. He looks closely: between his legs, the body of Christ is bleeding.
This isn’t your typical Gangster film. Flemish and French characters are often at odds with each other, vying for control of the cattle business. Far from the obligatory tales of idyllic romance in Europe, this film has the feel of a gritty, American, hard-boiled film, although subtler—the violence is controlled, which makes the story more powerful when something hideous happens.
In the main film, Jacky Vanmarsenille is all grown up. And he is still having serious problems while trying to carry on his family tradition as a cattle farmer. Soon after the opening of the film, Jacky starts a tenuous deal with some local gangsters, who love to give their dubious meat products away as gifts to good clients. Everything is going along as usual, albeit in a rather tense way, when an investigator is missing and the ties that bind the disparate factions in the cow meat business start to unravel in often-brutal ways.
Meanwhile, Jacky is shooting himself up with all types of hormones, desperate to regain something lost—testosterone. He certainly acts tough. No doubt about that, but Jacky is still in turmoil. The drugs make him sick. To make matters worse, he notices a woman he once had a crush on as a little dude, but due to his family background and his personal problem, he appears to be stuck in a form of suspended animation. The acting is first rate; it almost appears to be a documentary, so close is the acting to some bitter, biting truth in reality.
The film explores the cattle business and the use of injecting cows with different hormones to yield better meat. However, at the same time, it addresses what it means to be a man. How can one overcome personal tragedy to live a good life? Can a person recover from some terrible incidents from their childhood? If a person loses the essence of what makes them a man, what should they do?
Along with the gritty outlook of the film, there are moments of humor as when 2 mechanics that have a car linked to murder, argue about what to do with the it.
I won’t give the ending away, but the conflict between the main characters and the police, as well as the conflict inherent in the main farmer/thug is “potent.” I think what make the film special are its themes and how they play off of each other in the film. The camerawork and cinematography is icily good. Occasional tracking shots help relieve the rather cold, sick surroundings. All this makes the movie very poignant, with an undercurrent of menace. Evil is just under the surface. This is a stark, well-constructed and serious film. It’s definitely worth viewing.
BULLHEAD screens as part of the 21st Annual Whitaker Saint Louis International Film Festival at the Plaza Frontenac Cinemas on Friday, November 9 at 8:45 PM and Sunday, Nov 11th at 7:00pm at the Wildey Theatre