Bullhead is a violent, visceral and emotionally gruelling experience. It's not your average multiplex flick, and instead weaves a complex narrative about friendship, unrequited love and desire for simple fulfilment into a plot which veers between art-house and punch-drunk brutal. If you're familiar with the Pusher Trilogy [DVD
] or TV's braquo (Braquo Season 1 & 2 [DVD
]) then you'll be on familiar territory.
Moments of extreme ferocity are underscored with still frames of Flemish countryside, a bleak and beautiful backdrop to a tale in which a man's soul unravels in spectacular style. At one moment Jacky, the film's stunning central character, is a belligerent, intimidating beast of a bulked-up bodybuilder. The next, he's a fragile man-child, seeking redemption and a meaningful role in his life. It's a brilliant piece of acting in a well-constructed role.
Bullhead's obvious plot follows an unusual thriller theme, about the 'meat mafia' who trade in beef which has been illegally boosted by growth hormones. There are cops, bad guys, hapless mechanics who need to hide a stolen car which has been used in a murder; surveillance teams, raids, murder and more, all centred around a bizarre coincidence which places Jacky in the midst of the action. All this provides the catalyst for the real plot, when his traumatic past detonates into his present situation - the ripples eventually achieving tsunami status.
We were completely gripped for over two hours. There are a couple of truly shocking scenes (you'll know when you get to the key moment), balanced by moments of almost serene (or surreal) beauty. The scene where Jacky helps a cow to birth her calf via caesarean section does nothing to advance the plot, but it does everything to reveal his underlying integrity. The bathroom scenes, where he's pumped up on testosterone, steroids and all sorts are jaw-achingly tense.
And who knew how much the Flemish and Walloon hate each other? The moments of cross-border antagonism just added to the exotic - yet entirely credible - flavour of the film. Subtitling was effective without being intrusive.
You'll need to keep your wits about you - but invest some time and attention in Bullhead and it'll reward you.