🎬 #45 Matthias, We Love You.
This is more of a filmmaker focused newsletter but this week the spot light falls on a performer. Someone who constantly delivers no matter what the role calls for, with his intriguing mix of masculine tenderness. He pulls you with an immense gravitational force leaving his characters powerful yet heartbreakingly vulnerable - like a Belgian Tom Hardy but a more soulful and dangerous.
Happy choosing, happy viewing
FILM ONE: BULLHEAD
2011 Dir Michaël R. Roskam
This frame from Bullhead, or Rundskop, its original Belgian title, says everything you need to know about Schoenaert’s cattle farmer ‘Jacky.’ He’s a beast of a man, hulking, overloaded with a burden of muscle, at once as strong as the cattle he raises and as fragile as a newborn calf, still wet and slippery from the womb. A great deal of Roska’s film draws parallels between the farmer and the livestock, especially their equal reliance on regular injections of growth hormones and steroids. Schoenaerts has an exceptional physicality - often doing more with a bruised sideways look through his overhanging ocular cavity, than a 10 paragraph monologue ever could. He’s the one actor that maybe is the modern definition of the strong, silent type. Born of the chemistry of testosterone but not shacked to it, his on screen awareness takes him leaps and bounds beyond a pure ‘strong man.’ He share’s that rare quality all fascinating male performers have, an exterior that betrays the reality of their interior - those eyes that let you in for just a moment, never revealing too much at once. The ability to convince and attract without showboating or without clearly defined logic - true charisma.
Bullhead is a brooding thriller set in the underground ‘hormone mafia’ trade. Though emotionally it revolves around a deeply needled secret, a brutal insecurity that fuels Jacky’s behaviour throughout. Once revealed it makes you rethink who he is as soon as you realise just what made him who he is. Schoenaerts wears this secret like a tag on a tracked animal - the numerical barcode only making sense once it’s scanned. He has the ability to make his emotional pain leave a visceral mark on his body - as if loss could punch and jab, as if love could give you a left hook. The imprints of the past leaving a reddened graze - a soon to be a bruise on his armoured cheekbones - protecting those delicate single paned windows to his soul.
The frame above draws knowing parallels to De Niro’s Jake LaMotta from the rope imprisoned ring of Raging Bull’s opening scene. Both share not only the word ‘Bull’ but a sense of being prisoners to their own pasts, of being slaves to the malfunctioning masculinity they are trying to make up for. Neither can step outside the ‘bull,’ the dominant male nor the deep rage that fuels them. Their brutish physicality labelling them both protectors and yet in dire need of protection, from themselves and from the world in which they find themselves - ironically because of their physical heft.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hrs 9 mins of my precious life watching this? Schoenaerts delivers a tragically tender performance of a brute of man haunted by a emasculating moment in his past.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, Chili, Sky Store and Apple TV.
Fact: Schoenaerts gained 27kg of muscle for the role - training for two years before principle photography began.
FILM TWO: RUST AND BONE
2012 Dir Jacques Audiard
Next up is a love story between a boxer Alain [Ali] played by Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard’s sea-world-style-trainer, Stephanie. Here Schoenearts makes his vulnerability feel more child-like. He’s selfish, impetuous, compulsive, ego-centric to begin with. He’s all these things and yet we can’t help but feel for him - like a kid who doesn’t know any better, who can’t learn from his mistakes, all we can do is watch and hope that something clicks with him. Another intensely physical role, his character Ali’s only passion in life appears to be fighting and sleeping with women. In the beginning the son he’s been 'lumbered ‘ with is largely an inconvenience. It’s only when Stephanie comes into his life that things begin to change.
He suddenly chooses to care for someone outside of himself and by doing so he opens himself up. At the same time he rediscovers his love for fighting, for being punished and dealing out punishment. Like the animals Stephanie trains, the wild and brutal Ali becomes tamed, escapes the heartless sea of the world he's come from and is welcomed into the pool of ‘family.’ The opposite fate of the majestic animals in captivity. From here both Ali and Stephanie grow together. Early on it’s Ali’s pragmatism and wanting to help that pulls him closer to her - he plays what might be mistaken as the classic ‘saviour’ role. But it’s handled so deftly by him that nothing comes off as cliche - even when Stephanie’s current boyfriend eye’s him up suspiciously and he brushes it off like her boyfriend is nothing. He is clearly the alpha male here.
What’s great about how Schoenaerts looks in the roles he plays is that he’s never ‘ripped’ he’s never adorned to look like he could be on the cover of GQ or something - he's built for power. He’s all meat - a sledgehammer, an unstoppable force of pendulous momentum. Enough to demolish anything that stands in his way, and yet a useful tool when he’s on your side. He knows the force he wields and in the end he has to choose how he’s going to use it, for himself or someone else.
Throughout their relationship it’s Ali’s ‘primal’ instincts that both captivate Stephanie and push her away. A fight scene she witnesses is shot in vivid slow motion, akin to the splash of her orca’s choreographed performance. It’s clear - cutting back and forth between the sweat and blood slicked Ali and Stephanie’s reactions, that this pure display of masculine physical dominance - hurt or be hurt, awakens something in her. Almost as if she’s watching an animal - a soulful mysterious one at that, just like her orcas.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hrs of my precious life watching this? Schoenaerts makes us fall in love with him and Stephanie in an unforgettable tale of love and pain.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, Chili, Sky Store, YouTube, Curzon and Apple TV.
Fact: Based on a short story by Canadian author Craig Davidson, who admitted the film is much, much better.
*I still really want Schoenaerts to play Batman a role he almost had when Zach Snyder wanted to cast him for his version of the brooding hero.
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