In Review – Michaël R. Roskam’s Bullhead

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Matthias Schoenaerts impressed greatly with his turn in Jacques Audiard’s Rust & Bone, so much so that British distributors Soda Pictures have seen it fit to release 2011 Belgian film Bullhead, which is notable for featuring an early performance from Schoenaerts, for which the actor won a number of awards.

The film sees Schoenaerts play a young cattle farmer, who through a series of unusual coincidences winds up at the centre of a major criminal investigation in to the illegal use of stimulants within the beef industry. It’s an unlikely premise for an unusual feature, with the film riffing on everything from the traits one might expect of typical art-house fare from the region (the Dardenne brothers and Bruno Dumont are both stylistic comparatives), through to the populist Euro-thriller stylings of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and the early work of Nicolas Winding Refn. And yet the narrative reach somehow manages to stoop even stranger, as an unexpected back story promises grim but instead offers up a surreal twist on the macabre, as certain revelations come to the fore. Throw in a couple of ill-advised gags, and the whole thing remains as bemusing as it is eclectic.

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Schoenaerts is an engaging on-screen presence, with the broad, almost inhuman figure of the man dominating the frame. Comparisons between the titular bullhead and creatures of the bovine standard do come across as a little heavy-handed at times, but any incredulity in this respect is largely prominent thanks to the misdeeds elsewhere within the picture. It’s a shame that the ridiculous overwhelms the picture actually, as for when the film does focus on the contemplative it is fairly interesting, drawing comparisons to the aforementioned Dumont and Dardennes, as well as the likes of Robert Bresson and a whole area of wonderfully transcendental cinema.

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