The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

In need of a hug after watching Bullhead

with 15 comments

I killed a deer when I was in my 20s.

It was an accident that happened an early morning. I was driving to my job at a local newspaper one hour away when it ran into the side of my car. I didn’t see it happen, but I heard the thumping sound and as I stopped and watched in the mirror, I saw it lying on the ground. I saw there were twitches in the bodies and I opened my mouth and screamed.

I didn’t imagine anyone would hear me, or rather I didn’t even think about it. I was too shocked to think a single clear thought.

Fortunately there were other people around who hadn’t lost their minds and who didn’t hesitate to get involved and help out in the way they could. Before I knew it a trailer had stopped behind me. And in the mirror I saw the driver walk out from it with a jack in his hand. He hit the deer a few times in the head with it until it didn’t move anymore. Then he came up to me and brought me to his cab where I could sit and calm down while called the police. Arriving at the place, they decided that I was in too bad shape to safely drive the rest of the way to my job. So one of them did it for me with me as a passenger.

However I couldn’t let go of what just had happened. So I did the only thing I could to get it out of my system: I wrote about it. It was a personal piece titled something along the lines: “Me – a murderer”. (And yes, in case you wonder, it got into the paper. Nothing you write at a small newspaper is wasted; they can’t afford it. There’s a space to be filled, you know.)

The moment I was done with the text, I could feel how the deer episode lost its hold on me. Writing as therapy is pretty damned good, you know.

And that’s why I’m sitting here, writing about a movie I just have watched. Normally I would let the movie sink in for a day or two before even consider writing about it. I need to put a little bit of distance between the film and myself to really see it. If I’m too close, the picture gets blurry.

Putting Bullhead behind me
But after watching Bullhead tonight I’m afraid I won’t be able to sleep unless I first write about it, so I can get it out of my head. I left the salon exhausted, nauseated and in desperate need of some kind of comfort. So here I am, writing to put it behind me.

Bullhead was nominated by Belgium for the best foreign movie category of the Academy awards this year, leaving out another Belgian film, The Kid With a Bike, from the competition. Now that I’ve seen both I’m not that surprised of the decision. While I really liked The Kid With a Bike, this is a film that really stuck with me.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say as much that it’s a crime drama taking place among cattle farmers who use illegal hormones on the animals to maximize their profit. In the center of the film is Jacky, who doesn’t just inject hormones in cows. He’s using illegal medications on himself as well, and apparently it hasn’t just caused his body to blow up to gigantic proportions, it also has a bad impact on his health and temperament. Most of the time he walks around resembling to the Hulk as he’s just gotten mad and turned into the green guy, but much creepier, since he’s not a goodhearted comic character. If someone comes in his way in the wrong moment you assume he will be beaten up or possibly killed. You wouldn’t want to meet him alone at a late hour in the city.

My dislike for Jacky was massive to begin with, until the movie suddenly took a jump 20 years back in time and we got to see some events taking place in his childhood, which changed the whole picture. It didn’t make him less scary or some of the action he takes less horrible. But it helped me understand him and even pity him.

And this of course makes the events that follow even worse to witness.

Fetal position
It’s hard to describe how “tough” a film is to watch, since it varies so much between us. All I can do is to compare it to other films I’ve seen recently and I think it’s safe to say that this was the toughest watch so far this year from a violence point of view, only challenged by Tyrannosaur. If I go back to last year we have Drive that is in this league, but the question is if this one isn’t worse. It made me take a fetal position in my seat and beg for hugs on Twitter after I left the cinema (which I sadly didn’t get.)

It’s dark, it’s tragic, it’s depressing and I can imagine that the organization for meat producers in Belgium wasn’t too happy seeing it launched internationally. While the movie never makes a huge deal of the cattle business, focusing on the human drama, it still evoked disgust and disbelief and a passing thought about that it might be about time that I went back to vegetarianism again.

The film does have a couple of weak points. I’m especially thinking of the part of two car mechanics, who serve as some kind of comic relief, as silly and stupid as the Thompson brothers. I guess they were supposed to brighten up things a bit, but all they achieve is to appear misplaced.

But that’s just a minor complaint that shouldn’t overshadow how good the movie is. It’s apparently the debut of the director, and what a debut! I also can’t talk about this film without mentioning the actor Matthias Schoenaerts, who gained 27 kilos for his role as Jacky. The story is that he did this without the use of hormones, though it’s hard to believe when you see him. This is the kind of performance where you just can’t get into your head that this actually is an actor playing a role and not a real person.

Final words
I’ve been talking and talking and talking tonight and I’m afraid your ears are bleeding at this point, after over 1000 words. I’m recovered now and I suddenly feel how sleepy I am. No wonder, considering it is 1 AM in the morning.

Thank you for staying with me! It’s time to let Bullhead go.

It remains to see weather I’ll order a steak next time I go to a restaurant. I’m afraid I can’t completely shake of the image I just got of Belgian food industry.

Bullhead (Rundskop, Michael R. Roskam, BE 2011) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

May 30, 2012 at 1:05 am

Posted in Bullhead

15 Responses

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  1. I agree with you. It was uneven in some spots and the storytelling could have been better, but the mood was perfect, and for my money, Schoenaerts gave the best performance of 2011, and as much as I don’t want to see him in a superhero movie, I think it won’t be long until he is offered a significant role in one.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    May 30, 2012 at 1:27 am

    • Yes, I think he gives Fassbender in Shame and Mullan in Tyrannosaur a good fight for best acting performance last year. It was really, really good. Haha, superhero movie… yeah I reckon. As long as he keeps in shape. Or why not a Bond villain?


      May 30, 2012 at 7:27 am

  2. I think it was too slow for some people, even me at times. I couldn’t believe that it was just six minutes above two hours. It had got to be more than that. Hopefully we’re on the same page here, but I liked how you liked that it scared you, despite of how oppositionary those feelings are.


    May 30, 2012 at 2:25 am

    • I’m quite sensitive to slow since I nod off so easily when I watch movies at night. But my slow-o-meter didn’t mark this one out. Sure, there are scenes where not that much happens, when we see him walking around in his apartment, jabbing in the air or when we get a few pictures from the menacing landscape. But it’s always tense, never dull.

      I can see though why you thought it was longer than it was since it was kind of jammed with several people to care about and several stories to be told. I thought to myself that this easily could have been a TV series.


      May 30, 2012 at 7:35 am

  3. I’m glad you got around to watching it, we’re very proud of it in Belgium.

    I was reminded of Robert the Niro during the movie. Matthias Schoenaerts is in for an international career. He acted in the American remake of the Belgian Loft previous year and he was playing in a French movie in Cannes last week.

    I’ve read other reviewers complain that the comic relief was out of place. It didn’t bother me myself. The two dummy mechanics are Walloon however. Coincidence?


    May 30, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    • You have every right to be proud! He definitely should have good chances to be successful internationally. Just fantastic.

      I never mentioned the language thing in the review, but the film is jumping back and forward between the language barrier and I suspect I miss out some of the cultural and sociological context in this. I guess there’s quite a bit of hostility between the different zones, no?


      May 30, 2012 at 9:47 pm

      • In Flanders we have quite a few different dialects. Some in the movie speak my dialect, West Flemish, most is spoken in Limburgs, a dialect that I don’t understand. Matthias had to learn the dialect himself. Heck, he also gained 27 kilograms of muscles for this roll. Talk about being persistent.

        And yeah, there’s an uneasiness between the Flemish and French speaking part of Belgium, hostility is too big a worth for it. At its very simplest, the Flemish part is richer than the southern part and some people are tired of seeing money go from the north to the south without seeing anything back.


        May 30, 2012 at 11:05 pm

        • Thank you! That actor is really impressive. The Swedish actor Alicia Vikander had to learn Danish for A Royal Affair. But at least she didn’t need to gain 27 kilograms.


          May 30, 2012 at 11:14 pm

          • We’re traditionally quite proud of our language knowledge in Flanders. My English is good and I can have a conversation in French.

            Matthias however acted in the US Loft without anyone complaining about his accent. And he played in the French Rust & Bones. Plus of course, his Limburgs in this movie. Quite impressive.

            And now I’ll just stop talking about Matthias 🙂


            May 31, 2012 at 12:19 am

  4. Wow, I have heard good things about Bullhead, but your review has made me even more interested in seeing it. If a film has the type of effect on someone as this did on you, it must be worth seeing. Great piece.


    June 2, 2012 at 12:19 am

    • Thanks! I definitely recommend it to anyone as long as you’re not very sensitive about violence, then you might want to reconsider. There is some very graphic violence going on.


      June 3, 2012 at 5:43 pm

  5. Great post. Like ripping a page from your diary. I know how you feel. A similar thing happened to me when I watched Biutiful.


    June 3, 2012 at 6:36 am

    • Thank you Fernando! I’ve seen a couple of other films now that helped me recover. But it was gruesome to watch.


      June 3, 2012 at 5:37 pm

  6. […] Meanwhile, Jessica had a rough go of things after watching the very heavy BULLHEAD. […]

  7. […] Bullhead I needed a hug after watching this immensely depressing Belgian movie about some dark sides of farming that you really don’t want to know about. Be warned if you’re sensitive. […]

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