Film review: Bullhead (15)


A surprise nominee for Best Foreign Language Film in last year's Academy Awards, this intricate Belgian drama thrums with foreboding from the very start.

Matthias Schoenaerts plays Jacky, a reticent labourer on his uncle's farm who works on the fringes of the underworld, trafficking in cattle hormones and delivering smacks to recalcitrant locals.

Bovine and bulked up on steroids, Jacky is a damaged soul, though we don't know how badly until the film flashes back to the atrocious assault he suffered as a boy.

The plot is a murky stew of stolen cars, dodgy deals and police surveillance, thickened by the multiplicity (Flemish and Walloon) of the Belgian tongue and the reappearance in Jacky's life of the friend (Jeroen Perceval) who witnessed his traumatic maiming of 20 years before.

Debutant director Michaël R Roskam doesn't often depict violence, though its threat lives in the air of this drab, rural milieu.

Even the way men eat dinner together feels fraught with tension. Perhaps the denouement could have been a little trimmer and tighter given the excellence of what precedes it, but the fatalistic mood reverberates long after you've seen it.