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Utter 'Bullhead'

Drafthouse Films 'Bullhead' is shortlisted for Oscar

By Marc Savlov, 5:09PM, Fri. Jan. 20, 2012

Utter 'Bullhead'

When Tim League and his fledgling Drafthouse Films distribution arm acquired the belligerent Belgian genre-defier Bullhead at Fantastic Fest 2011, no one had any inkling that just a few short months later the film would end up shortlisted for the Oscars…but it has. Now here's your chance to see it.

Director Michael R. Roskam's debut feature kicked all kinds of ass right out of the gate, picking up a slew of accolades – among them Fantastic Fest's prestigious Next Wave Award – before anyone knew what hit them. And now this intense character study of small-time crimes in an even smaller country is poised to enter the biggest cinematic arena of them all, the 84th annual Academy Awards.

Because it's virtually impossible to synopsize Bullhead without giving key plot points away, let's just say it bears a certain similarity to another previous Next Wave Awardee, UK director Ben Wheatley's superb Down Terrace. Both movies feature criminally-minded protagonists hobbled by their own raging inner demons, and are set against a familial milieu, but Roskam's film is a far bleaker affair, shockingly so at times. (Illegal bovine steroids are involved, not that that's going to help you suss out the storyline.) They're both exercises in human implosion, but Bullhead, thrillingly shot, magnificently written (by Roskam) leaves you emotionally spent and physically weeping.

In anticipation of the the coming Oscar nominations, the Alamo South Lamar will be screening Bullhead tomorrow and Sunday for your viewing pleasure pain edification.

While you're waiting, we just got off the phone with both Mr. League and Mr. Roskam and here's a snippet of our confab…

Austin Chronicle: Tim, when did you first see Bullhead and what was your reaction?

Tim League: It had been playing the more highbrow festivals and had premiered at Berlin, but I got a recommendation to check it out from a friend who does some other festival programming, so I saw it at Cannes. We were already aware of it because it had been getting some pretty interesting press from other festivals but once I actually saw it, I fell in love with it immediately.

AC: It's not your typical Fantastic Fest horror/sci-fi/chopsocky genre film. I'm not sure what you'd call it, but it really just beats your senseless. In a good way.

TL: Absolutely. I myself have become somewhat bored with traditional, run-of-the-mill horror and genre movies where you can tell within the first five minutes how it's all gonna play out. What we look for, all the time, is incredible storytelling. And Bullhead is that.

AC: Michael, this is your first feature film and I'm wondering what you were up to before Bullhead

Michael R. Roskam: Originally I studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels but what I really enjoyed was storytelling. I spent much of my twenties in a search for my voice. I like to draw, I like to write, and I like to tell stories. One day it just became obvious to me that if you want to do all those things together, then you've got to make movies. So I made my first short film about ten years ago and I ended up coming up with the idea for Bullhead five years ago. But don't talk about Bullhead, you know, don't give the plot away.

AC: Never.

MRR: You can just say, maybe, that there was a real-life drama from which I drew inspiration for my main character, a character whose life is going change when he's a kid and that change is going to turn him into an animal, like a beast, someone who is going to lose it but is also doing this thing to protect himself. What is it about? It's about hormones, gangsters, farming, brutality, the past, friendship, and loss of innocence. But please don't tell anyone what happens.

Bullhead screens Sat, Jan 21, 10:15pm and Sun, Jan 22, 7:40 pm at the Alamo South Lamar.


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