Cinergie met with the director who wowed Belgian audiences and the Berlinale Panorama 2011 with his debut feature Bullhead.
Cinergie: The film’s original title (Rundskop [+see also:
interview: Bart Van Langendonck
interview: Michaël R. Roskam
film profile]) and its international title (Bullhead)
Michaël R. Roskam: It’s a bit of a made-up word that is rarely used, inspired by the word meaning "calf’s head" in Flemish. Rund is the meat on the plate, it’s a product. The title chosen in English, Bullhead, is perfect because it also suggests the extremely stubborn nature of someone who is prepared to smash his head against a wall.
The main character
His instinct is to do good. But despite his good intentions, half the time things turn out badly for him or for someone else. These reactions hurt him: he is unhappy and doesn’t understand because his intentions were good. It’s the story of the frog and the scorpion. The scorpion asks the frog to carry him across the river on his back because he doesn’t know how to swim. The frog says: "You’re mad, you’ll sting me”. But the scorpion assures him that it would be stupid to do that because they would both die. They start the crossing, but in the middle of the river, the scorpion stings the frog. Before dying, the frog asks: "But why? You’re going to die too". And the scorpion replies: "I know, but it’s in my nature." There are two important ways of being: either you’re the frog, which doesn’t have the ability to defend itself against outer forces, or you’re the scorpion, which doesn’t have the ability to defend itself against its own inner forces.
Culture and the devil
You have to give people the opportunity to deal with the devil, the demon. In my opinion, that’s the almost biological role of culture and art. We need it: once we’ve eaten, slept, defended ourselves and made fire to keep warm, we look at ourselves and we start to explain things. It’s part of our condition.
I tried to create a Flanders with a slight mythological layer. A mythology which emerges from a poetic, literary, artistic and pictorial tradition from our past. To tell this story, there were already elements like Hieronymus Bosch, Rubens, everything that comes from North West Europe, including Courbet for photography, the naturalists… These are perhaps my influences because I studied painting. I’ve captured present-day Flanders with a traditional eye, an eye that is connected to my cultural past. I followed Scorsese’s idea: "When you begin, talk about things you know". Nothing is misrepresented, neither on the Walloon side, nor the Flemish side: all the landscapes are on the linguistic border, we pass through them.
The only normal Flemish we hear in the film is during the TV news. Jacky and his family are somewhat caricatural because they speak a dialect that only about 20,000 people can understand. So you have to translate for everyone.
I wanted a slender, rather athletic character, but with a weak frame. I wanted viewers to see that he carries an actual physical weight on his shoulders, not just a psychological and emotional one; to see his fragility in his eyes like in Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast.