Sunday, March 11, 2012

Michael R. Roskam: Bullhead

Matthias Schoenaerts, Bullhead, Drafthouse Films, 2012.

With the uncompromising drive of an born storyteller, Belgian director Michael R. Roskam delivers us an utterly immersive character study-crime saga. Yet this isn't a film you merely watch; it is a movie which becomes apart of you. Roskam displays the wonderful traits of a master filmmaker; assured, fearless and visionary.

Although its framework and trappings are undeniably familiar, it is the life as shaped by the constraints of celluloid which sets Roskam's picture apart. Dostoevsky flows through this one's veins. A tale of rural criminals and farmers which shapes into a subtly complex flash back/flash forward, we become wholly apart of the characters, their highs and lows. Robin Valvekens is radiant as the young boy whose burgeoning sexuality is crushed by a cruel assault. Matthias Schoenaerts is revelatory in an incendiary star turn as Jacky, a part-time thug and farmer whose steroid-abuse and shameful past have left him filled with rage and longing. His virile musculature filling the frame, his uncertain words and deceptive facial expressions bind together a truly mind-blowing performance. Jeroen Perceval as a gay thug in love with the cop he's stooling for is also highly impressive.

Roskam handles it all with a touch of genius. Nikolas Karakatsanas' camera-work is alternately hallucinatory and cold, shifting along with our tragic protagonist. The icy blues go perfectly with the austerity of the director's tone. Maculinity, child abuse, homosexuality, desire, regret, loss, love, and forgiveness are the themes which run through this supremely confident first feature. I was reminded of two recent directors of similar brilliance, entwining masculinity and violence; Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) and David Michod (Animal Kingdom), as well as past masters Visconti and De Palma. The shattering impact of this novelistic mini-epic declare it as one of this new year's best films.

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