Mad About Matthias: Bullhead ((Rundskop) 2011) (#5)

Unfortunately Mad About Matthias took a longer time off then we had originally hoped, but none of that matters as we’re back covering a real Matthiasterpiece. Bullhead (or Rundskop in its native tongue) is an Academy Award nominated feature from Michaël R. Roskam – and the film that would go on to put our man Matthias on the international map. The pair would later reteam for English-language project, The Drop, but we’ll talk about that one later.

Bullhead sees Matthias star as Jacky Vanmarsenille, a young cattle farmer who makes a shady deal with a Flemish beef trader toying with hormones in his produce. Jacky soon finds himself entangled in a police investigation that evokes several childhood traumas for him.

Bullhead is a testament to Schoenaerts’ intensity as an actor and to Roskam’s skill as both writer and director. Outwith the intricate crime dealings, there’s an enthralling character piece and study of masculinity at the heart of Roskam’s film. Although Bullhead opens like a brooding Euro-crime tale, it’s Jacky that immediately entrances us. A brutal mass of testosterone and immense physicality marks the outside of the sombre, yet grumblingly intense protagonist Jacky. We see the muscular titan inject himself with hormones (the same as those delivered to the cattle) and feel an integral need to know more about this introverted character.

In his gradual reveal of Jacky’s backstory, Roskam presents a thought-provoking look at gender – in particular the value of masculinity. It’s revealed in flashback that as the result of harrowing bullying in his youth, Jacky’s testicles were damaged beyond repair – prompting his parents to encourage injections of testosterone through fear that there son may subsequently become more feminine or god forbid, gay.

Scenes that follow showing Jacky in a perfume store investigating the more ‘feminine’ scents contrast with intense mass of hormone-fuelled masculinity we are originally presented with. Jacky’s dysfunctional phallus results in an unnatural portrait of hyper-masculinity that sees our protagonist excluded and closed-off from those around him. The perfumery presents a brief escape from this world of intense masculinity allowing us to see the more natural Jacky beneath this hormone-fuelled façade. There’s a fascinating story of thrashed gender identity here that’s ripe for some lucky student’s dissertation. Imagine a dissertation on Matthias. Wouldn’t that be something…

Given that the exploration of Jacky’s psyche is so fascinating, the crime angle feels far less exciting and perhaps more confusing than is required. Fortunately whether showcasing Jacky’s intensity alone or within this criminal underworld, Matthias remains incredible – presenting not only an immense physical transformation, but a truly gripping emotional one.

Up next is De Bende van Oss.