Bullhead is a tough watch from almost the very beginning. Although the opening ambiguous shots are overlapped by an almost poetic narrative, the beauty is short lived. The entire film views like an independent, but the opening half hour is more like a student film.
Once the technique cleans itself up, I could focus more on the story. Unfortunately I wasn’t encouraged by what I saw. It is the underworld of pumping hormones into cows in Berlin. You wouldn’t think it would be as seedy as it is, but it’s like the mob, only with our friendly barnyard animals and their owners. There are dealers, mob bosses, informants, comedic reliefs, and police investigations. Underneath it all, there is a dark storyline that alters the whole mood of the film when it reveals itself.
Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) is the one bright spot in the entire film. He is a dark, hulking, heavy lidded man who doesn’t talk much but tends toward anger after drinking and stalking a pretty shop girl. His dark secret causes him to push everyone away because he fears he will never truly belong. His family’s farm has been benefiting from hormones for years, but after eating with the boss, he gets skittishish about the police investigation. Schoenaerts pulls off this deep and complex chracter exquisitely.
Jacky’s story seems completely separate from the rest of the film. It is as if someone thought of an idea for a never before seen character study but kept adding more and more sub-plot–so much so that the main idea got lost by it. The two story lines are at war with one another–not to mention the actors who are all fighting for screen time. Although the cinematography is appropriately dark, I found zero redeeming qualities in this film. What might be considered a bright comedic point is probably lost in translation and the frequent bits between two idiotic mechanics didn’t bring me a lot of laughs.
As a result, after watching Bullhead, I am incredibly wary of the rest of the foreign language film nominations from this year. Perhaps I should not judge them all by this experience, because it was an F in my book. I do not recommend this film.