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BULLHEAD (RUNDSKOP) (director/writer: Michael R. Roskan; cinematographer: Nicolas Karakatsanis; editor: Benoit De Clerck; music: Raf Keunen; cast: Matthias Schoenaerts (Jacky Vanmarsenille), Jeroen Perceval (Diederik), Barbara Sarafian (Eva), Jeanne Dandoy (Lucia Schepers), Tibo Vandenborre (Antony De Greef), Sam Louwyck (Marc De Kuyper), Kristof Renson (Stieve Vanmarsenille), Philippe Grand’Henry (David Filippini), Erico Salamone (Christian Filippini),David Murgia(young Bruno Schepers), Robin Valvekens (Jacky, as a child), Frank Lammers (shady veterinarian), Kris Cuppens (Jean Vanmarsenille); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Bart Van Langendonck/Peter Bouckaert/Patrick Quinet/Jan Van der Zanden; Drafthouse Films; 2011-Belgium-in Dutch and French-with English subtitles)

“A ferocious crime thriller that grabbed my attention and held my interest throughout.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The first feature film directed by the Belgian Michael R. Roskanis a ferocious crime thriller that grabbed my attention and held my interest throughout. It’s a blood curdling sensational character study and is like no other crime film I’ve seen. It’s about the illegal use of growth hormones in cattle and of how much of an overly testosterone anxiety-ridden society we modern westerners live in and about a psychologically damaged fragile man on steroids who is filled with ‘roid rage he can’t control. The film is inspired by the headline story of the murder, by the aptly dubbed hormone mafia, in 1995, of a Belgian government veterinarian checking for cattle injected with illegal substances.

The Flemish, muscular, brooding, 30-year-old Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), is a thuggish farmer who intimidates local farmers to buy only his family’s growth hormone tainted cattle. The small-time criminal Flemish farmer from Limburg, Belgium, injects himself with the same steroids and experimental growth hormone drugs he gives to the animals to fatten them up quickly.

Uncle Eddy, who runs the small-time family illegal hormone injected cattle business, makes a questionable deal with big-time West Flanders black-market supplier of growth hormones De Kuyper (Sam Louwyck), even though word on the street is that the hormone mafia boss recently killed a snooping investigator cop and the cops are targeting him as a suspect. Jacky can’t talk his family out of making the lucrative deal, but continues to express to them his reservations while acting increasingly strange as if he’s trying to crawl out of his skin. By a set of coincidences the innocent Jacky gets implicated in the murder of the cop through the French speaking and Flemish hating Liege garage owner (Erico Salamone) and his brother mechanic (Philippe Grand’Henry), who De Kuyper paid to make sure the car used by the hit man in the assassination wasn’t found again.

Jacky has even more bad feelings about dealing with De Kuyper when he encounters his estranged childhood pal who abandoned him at a time he needed him most, Diederik (Jeroen Perceval), working for him as a hormone trafficker. The creepy Diederik is also a police informer, working for a police team that has a surveillance on De Kuyper.

In Liege, the violent Raging Bull-like, head-butting, Jacky, the Bullhead of the pic, meets Lucia (Jeanne Dandoy), who is working in a perfume shop. She was the French speaking girl from his childhood whose crazed brother Bruno (David Murgia) assaulted him viciously and took away his manhood in an incident that ruined his life.

It’s a Greek tragedy-like drama that has many things going on in its complex plot line including the mentally crippled criminal Jacky crying inside himself for something more than revenge to live for. It depicts the animosity between the Dutch-speaking Flemish people and French-speaking Walloons. It has the troubled film noir anti-hero identify more with the animals he injects than people, and that the shady deals in cattle country signal only bad things can happen to someone born and raised in such a poisoned culture. When a somber voiced narrator tells us at the prologue that “No matter what you do or think, one thing is for sure: You’re always fucked. Now, tomorrow, next week or next year, until the end of time, fucked,” by the intense film’s end you know what he means and you either find the frightening story hits you between the eyes or misses the target. What everyone should agree on is that Schoenaerts’ performance is impressive, as the wild beast with a brain that tells him that no matter what he does there’s no perfume to put on to disguise his stink or any way for him to escape his fate.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”