I unfortunately missed Bullhead when it was first released in this country. This Belgian film was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film. (It lost out to the Iranian film, A Separation, which is also very good.) First time director Michaël R. Roskam has crafted a powerful and disturbing movie.
Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) belongs to a cattle-raising family in Flanders. His family uses hormones to fatten their cattle, which is illegal in Belgium. Jacky uses steroids to bulk himself up, in a manner eerily similar to the way he bulks up cattle. Through a series of flashbacks we learn that Jacky’s behavior is the result of a traumatic childhood experience. Jacky’s family becomes increasingly involved in the trade in illegal hormones. When a leader of the “hormone mafia” has a government agent killed, Jacky begins to fear that his family may be in over their heads. At the same time Jacky obsesses over a girl from his childhood.
Bullhead derives much of its power from Schoenaerts’s performance. One can sense the frustration and rage boiling inside his character. Much of the suspense of the film comes from knowing that his anger can explode at any time.
This film depicts Belgium’s hormone mafia. This group presents a real problem in that country. In 1995, they murdered a government meat inspector (this incident was the inspiration for this film). It appears that farmers are willing to break the law just to give themselves a competitive advantage. The logic of capitalism fuels such behavior. Here in the U.S., where agribusiness practically controls the government, there are no prohibitions on hormone use. The U.S. has been pressuring European countries such as Belgium to lift their bans on hormone use. It seems that the U.S. has become a sort of hormone mafia.