Movies about males struggling with their gender identity are not necessarily made by and for women, though the inquiries and issues at hand may overlap. There are increasingly a number of such films that may appear to be feminist tracts, but actually originate from a male gay perspective. And with less of a sense of female frustration, than same sex fear. And leaving a strange impression of the imagined existence of three genders, rather than two.
Bullhead [Rundskop], the Oscar nominee this year from Belgium in the Best Foreign Film category, would seem to exemplify that very same sex alienation. Ostensibly a drama about what is referred to as ‘the Belgian bovine hormone mafia,’ Bullhead probes on the surface a peculiar rural underground economy of animal hormone drug dealers and racketeers, presumably peddling the unapproved and possibly dangerous substances in order to produce cattle with the most meat on their bones, for a highly competitive market. Especially with the current global economic crisis in full swing.
But that thinly sketched sidebar theme about fattening up the livestock by any means necessary, is never fully fleshed out, so to speak. And appears to be well, injected into the story to create a symbolic subtext for the main narrative. Which concerns the plight of Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts), a ferociously buffed up, macho cattle farmer. Likely juicing himself daily with a combo of human and animal steroids, Jacky does so desperately, as the result of a brutal childhood incident which has rendered his sex glands dysfunctional.
Jacky’s condition, and his frantic attempts to conceal it to the world and project instead an image of a hyper-macho man’s man, has led him to lead an primarily misanthropic and hostile hermit’s existence. Until the day that, to secretive Jacky’s shock and dismay, his childhood friend Diederik [Jeroen Perceval] who witnessed the attack and failed to help him, resurfaces as a local bovine mafia recruit and undercover police informant. And Diederik is also leading an undercover life as a gay man, ashamed of his sexual desires.
Eventually hidden secrets and assorted dark sides clash, precipitating drug-fueled, raw emotions and alternately heartbreaking and repugnant violence. And that summons conflicting sympathy when not terror, for this artificially enhanced masculinized yet broken man.
While director Michael R. Roskam’s depiction of the underground drug trade is spotty and begs for more, on the other hand his psychological portrait of a troubled man driven to masculine extremes itself suffers from excess. And that weirdly intimates the abnormal creation of an additional manimalistic male species, arising from a sense of thwarted gender identity. And is resolved horrifically, as cattle and human slaughter in trapped confines, become nearly indistinguishable.
Though on the plus side, Matthias Schoenaerts’ performance and whatever the director had in mind to subject him to beast-wise, is phenomenal. On the other hand, Twilight fans especially, it is not recommended to try this at home.
2 1/2 stars