BELGIAN NOIR transposes brown for black: The buildings are brown, the grass is brownish-green, and men all wear mud-colored suits. Seriously, Belgium is the Idaho of Europe. Bullhead is bleak as fuck and nothing in particular happens. It's also Oscar nominated, which is to say that it's a character study where no one gets what they want.
The film follows the beige travails of Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), a corrupt Flemish cattleman and dealer in—and consumer of—black-market bovine growth hormones. I was under the impression that your average American cow is haunch deep in a pharmaceutical cocktail, but apparently better grilling through chemistry is a big no-no in the lowlands. On the eve of a big beef deal (I don't know what that means either), a Belgian FDA agent is killed and Jacky's life begins to unravel.
Bullhead's plot suffers from what critic David Edelstein calls the "psychodrama striptease," which is to say that Jacky spends half the film acting super fucking weird for no discernible reason. At the halfway mark, we discover some causal childhood trauma (a bully punched his penis off), after which poor Jacky descends into predictably thematic madness. He also C-sections what appears to be an actual cow, but perhaps that's unique to Belgian beef-themed psychodramas.
Bullhead's core is a story about a man slowly becoming an animal, and in this, Schoenaerts succeeds admirably in his role: He begins to snort and stomp and affectionately headbutt Walloons, just like his cattle. But Jacky is just a cipher: He rarely speaks, never introspects, and does what he does because his father did it and because I guess there's nothing else to do in Flanders. Watching him fall apart is like watching a cow fall apart, and there are butcher shops if you want to see that kind of thing.