It’s amazing and quite the achievement to find out that the 2011 Belgian film Bullhead is Michaël R. Roskam’s first feature. The sheer bravery of it and its subject matter would make one think that it was made by veteran of the industry. Yet, Roskam’s abilities behind the camera and the sheer dedication of his cast and crew have made something extremely relevant, poetic and riveting that every film lover should seek out. The film was selected as the Belgian entry of the 84th Academy Awards this year and has gone on to gain various accolades and praise all around the world and deservedly so. Drafthouse Films was able to grant Film Monthly an interview Mr. Roskam, to shed some light on this modern work of art.
FilmMonthly: Welcome on behalf of Film Monthly and congrats on making Bullhead.
Michaël Roskam: Thank You!
FM: While there are shots in the film that are indicative of other filmmakers, you and the Director of Photography, Nicolas Karakatsanis, wanted to emulate old paintings. Which paintings or painters inspired you guys for the look of Bullhead?
MR: Well, we mostly looked at old Flemish 17th century paintings. We also drew a lot of inspiration from Rembrant and a few other Dutch painters as well during those times. We liked the overall look and color palette of these paintings and that’s how we wanted Bullhead to look.
FM: With this being you first feature film, after making a few shorts, were there any major compromises that you had to make?
MR: The only thing that really sticks out in my head is the overall shooting days and the budget. I wanted to shoot for 40 days and the budget called for 35. There were times where I would talk to the producers and we’d go back and forth over a bunch of things that I’d have to give up or find another way to get the job done. While this may seem like a hinderance, when things like this come up, it gives you more room to think creatively and find better ways to accomplish much more. Where on some days I’d have to give up a certain shot or something else that I wanted, we’d make up for it later with a really scene or some improvisation later on. So while there’s always compromise while making a film, its all relative.
FM: Was it easier or much more difficult to direct the scenes that Matthias Schoenaerts and Jeroen Perceval had together, since they’ve known each other since they were 13 years old?
MR: It was very easy to work with them and we made it a point to draw on that history in order to serve those scenes. I used it only to my advantage and I think that this shows in the scenes that they have together and it was a real honor to work with them.
FM: During the filming of your short film The One Thing to Do, which was the first time you worked with Matthias, what did you see in his performance that made you come to the realization that he should play Jacky Vanmarsenille?
MR: It was primarily his talent that made me choose Matthias to play as Jacky. It was all about what he brought to the table with his intelligence and his charisma that gave me the notion that he could handle playing Jacky and do the character that I had written some justice.
FM: While there’s plenty of images that stay with you in Bullhead one that stood out for me was right after the caesarian scene, where his nephew comes up to him and smiles at him and waves hello. Was it always there from the beginning to have these visual cues reinforce the tragedy of Jacky?
MR: That’s a really small scene that normally wouldn’t matter so much but being next to the the birth of the calf makes it stand out. I wanted to reinforce the powerlessness of Jacky by using these images and also using the narrative to look into the concepts of masculinity. While there is the obvious of Jacky getting his manhood taken away from him by you know who, I wanted to explore this through the use of various symbols and images to make a strong film. So yes, it was a very conscious effort to get those images in order to explore this theme properly.
FM: Last but not least, what was the greatest or memorable experience that you took away from in making a film like Bullhead?
MR: Its interesting that you say that because it really is something very strange. My favorite scene in the film isn’t in the movie. It was a sort of dream sequence where the older Jacky meets the younger version of himself and sits him on his lap. During the making of it and seeing it in the edit room, it would always move me to tears because it looked so beautiful. So, when we were putting the film together and screening it with the producers, we saw that it just didn’t work. It didn’t fit with the narrative and at the end of the day, we needed to make sure that the narrative worked and we had to ultimately serve the story. So we cut the scene and its interesting to me because that scene still exists, as beautiful as it is and can exist in its own right as a piece of art but isn’t part of the film.
FM: Well, Thank You Michaël for your time and congratulations on your first film.
MR: Thank You.
Bullhead is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Drafthouse Films and Image Entertainment.