Friday 8 March 2013

Tune For the Blood director previews Bullhead

When I sat down to watch Bullhead, I was expecting something different. I thought it was going to be a crime thriller about hormone use in cattle in Flanders, a tale of bad men contaminating meat with hormones - quite topical given the recent horsemeat scandals. I thought it might be a film that would play well at a rural film festival. However, I don’t think the local farming community will be flocking to see this one.

Yes, it has a rural setting – it takes place in Belgium where the local Flemish farming community is heavily involved in building up their Belgian Blue cattle with illegal drugs, while the ‘hormone mafia’ carve out their power bases. And one strand of the film involves an undercover police investigation of the Flemish hormone mafia, but by far the most interesting and powerful story is the heartbreaking unravelling of Jacky, a beef farmer - played by Rust and Bone's Matthias Schoenaerts - who cannot escape the man he has become. Like the animals he tends, he injects himself with hormones. The emotional power of the film pulses along a current that runs between the adult Jacky and the child he was when subjected to a random act of violence, which is depicted in a scene of gut churning brutishness.

The brilliance of Bullhead is in the way that almost every frame of the film is tense with the pumped up muscularity of Jacky’s adult being. The flat grey fields, muddy tracks, and lowering skies are troubled, brooding and wary. Even the tonal range of the image is held in check, kept tight, so that when I remember the film, I almost remember it in black and white. The sound track is spare, attenuated.

In one scene, where Jacky hastily snatches a fancy, boxed eau de cologne to buy at the end of an exchange at a cosmetics counter, it stands out as moment of achingly awkward tenderness in the hulking rawness of the film, and that tenderness is felt only once again, when Jacky checks on a new born calf that has been lowered into a wheelbarrow. They are the moments that remind us, along with the haunting final images of the 10 year old boy he was, that deep within the sinews that bind his brutish, hormone built world together, is a vulnerable, fragile being, whose loss is what makes this such a painful but powerful film.

Bullhead is not an easy film to watch, and the police story and the Jacky story don’t quite mesh together, but this bruising film is really worth seeing. Just don’t expect Countryfile.

1 comment:

Borderlines Film Festival said...
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