As a wrote in my Oscar Guide piece on the Best Foreign Language Film race a while back, the Academy has compiled a more commendably tough-minded selection of films in the category than usual, and no nominee is tougher than Belgium's entry, "Bullhead." A complex, muscular fusion of thriller and character study set in the corruption-riddled European cattle racket, but delving into far darker and more inscrutable psychological territory than the trade of steroid-pumped cows, it's probably my second-favorite of the nominees.
Michael R. Roskam's debut feature was an adventurous selection on the Belgians' part, particularly with the gentler charms and familiar auteur brand of Cannes critics' favorite "The Kid with a Bike" also in the running, and it was similarly gutsy of the Academy to take it this far in the race. There's speculation that the executive committee stumped for this challenging contender, though it's performed well enough at the AFI and Palm Springs festivals -- winning prizes for Roskam and his remarkable leading man, Matthias Schoenaerts -- to suggest art house audiences are willing to take it on.
Some of you will get a chance to see for yourself when "Bullhead" opens in limited release on Friday, just in time for the end of Oscar voting. Meanwhile, see how you get on with this exclusive clip from the film, foreshadowing a crucial ordeal in the protagonist's childhood around which the narrative revolves. I won't spoil anything beyond that, though the repetition of one particular phrase may tip you off.
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