Bullhead is the impassioned tale of Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), a Belgian cattle farmer who, due to a childhood act of harrowing violence, has become an emotional cripple, although a hunky one. Yes, thanks to all of the steroids and hormones he regularly ingests and shoots up, his physique is much more inviting than his personality. In fact, you might just call him the Travis Bickle of livestock.
As for the aforementioned cows, they're not left out when it comes to getting pharmaceutical aids. You see certain Belgian farmers want to fatten up their bovines in eight weeks instead of ten, and to do so, they are purchasing the most sophisticated drugs available, ones not even as of yet available in the "Hormonic States of America."
So what we have here is basically two plot lines, both including the brooding, muscle-bound Jackie. In the first, he's involved with the steroid-distributing Cow Mafia, which has recently murdered an undercover cop and is now being monitored by the long arm of the law.
In the second, Jacky relives the moments in which his body was permanently vandalized and his psyche immutably traumatized.
As the opening narration notes, "Sometimes in a man's life stuff happens that makes everyone go quiet. So quiet that no one even dares talk about it. Not to anyone, not even to themselves. Not in their head and not out loud. Not a fucking word."
In this silence, can Jacky overcome the past and form a loving relationship? Or, twenty years after the incident, will he settle for meting out revenge on those who devastated his ability to be "normal"? And is there an iota of a possibility that he will ever prove to be more than just a bullhead, "a stupidly stubborn or unintelligent person"?
Appropriately nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, this violently absorbing, and at times highly funny, thriller -- directed by Michael R. Roskam and lushly shot by Nicolas Karakatsanis -- is held together by Schoenaerts's searing performance, which is never oversized even though his character is. Whether sparring with invisible enemies, pounding on bathroom walls, screaming out his angst, trying out deodorants, or delivering calves, his Jacky is always like a child/man. He has the cravings of a lover but the inability to carry through. He wants to be depended upon, but there's no one compelled to take him up on his offer. Always rushing about like a bull in a china shop, banging about with his forehead, he's in search of some type of unobtainable peace of mind, an implausible odyssey, because for someone like Jacky, "no matter what you do or think, you're always fucked. Now, tomorrow, next week or next year. Until the end of time fucked." - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Gay Identity in Literature" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton).