★★★ / ★★★★
Jacky (Matthias Schoenaertys), a cattle farmer, decided to do business with a beef trader that the police suspected of being a part of a hormone mafia underworld. When an undercover agent was found shot to death, Jacky was now connected to the investigation and all clues pointed to him being the person that needed to be arrested. Diederik (Joroen Perceval), an informant and a friend of Jacky from childhood, insisted that Jacky had nothing to do with the murder. The detectives (Barbara Sarafian, Tibo Vandenborre) wanted to trust Diederik but evidence suggested otherwise. Written and directed by Michael R. Roskam, “Rundskop” was about many illicit activities on the surface but beneath its hide was a story of man so traumatized by his past, he couldn’t seem to move on and live a happy life he deserved. Jacky’s intimidating stocky presence was given dimension by flashbacks of Jacky and Diederik when they were still very good friends. The camera followed them running, laughing, and playing up until their innocence was crushed by an older boy with serious behavioral problems. As the picture bounced between the past and the present, it created a rather gauche pacing. And yet it almost felt necessary that it didn’t feel quite right because Jacky didn’t feel comfortable in his own skin. He found no closure in what had happened to him as a child so he was in a perpetual state of rage. It didn’t help that his veins were consistently filled with hormones, the very same ones designed for his cattle. His body, with help of drugs, was something he could control and he would hold onto that precious thing as if his life depended on it. If you’ve ever tried taking food from a rhinoceros beetle or touched it when it didn’t feel like making contact, it would hiss as if it were about to attack. I likened Jacky to a hissing beetle, very curious and equally unpredictable. The performance delivered by Schoenaertys should be commended not only because of the muscle weight he gained for the role but also in the way in he clearly communicated Jacky’s shame. We’ve all been in a situation where we know that we ought to do something for ourselves or someone else whether it be the right thing to do or just something nice so that our affection for them–or for ourselves–is shown in some way. But sometimes we don’t always do so because we’re afraid of what people might think. In Jacky’s situation, he always felt ashamed. His inability to give what he wished made him feel less than. Whenever the camera focused on his eyes, one of them drooped just a bit, it gave us a chance to feel a small portion of his negative emotions. We understood why he couldn’t escape his depression. I also admired the film’s cinematography, like how the past looked bright yet ominous and the present sported an unceasing, almost misty fatigue. The latter’s cheerless colors of brown and gray helped to place us into the despairing mind of the main character. “Rundskop,” also known as “Bullhead,” was an intense character study surrounded by unlawful goings-on that could have been less cluttered. Schoenaertys’ entrancing performance elevated an occasionally unfocused screenplay.