Sydney Film Festival – Borgman review


By Simon Miraudo
June 15, 2013

How do you solve a problem like Borgman? A puzzle movie from the Netherlands with seemingly no key, it frustrates and intrigues in equal measure. Well, maybe not equal measure. Much more of the first thing. I left the cinema mostly feeling fooled, and it’s always nicer to think you’re in on the joke. More like Yorgos LanthimosDogtooth than Leos Carax‘s Holy Motors (if you’re looking to place it on the spectrum of recent, oddball international exports), director Alex van Warmerdam‘s feature is a sort-of home invasion flick with a folkloric twist (Michael Haneke‘s Funny Games is another suitable touchstone). The twist, however, is that when the credits roll, there’s nothing much to take away from it, least of all a desire to unravel its mysteries. This is sometimes the price you pay when you intentionally keep the audience at arm’s length.

I’ll keep the synopsis short, because Lord knows it won’t help either of us unpack this thing any better. Jan Bijvoet stars as Camiel Borgman, a grubby, bearded weirdo living underground and being tracked by well-armed holy men. After alerting some colleagues (of a kind) that their cover’s been blown, they look for another abode. Borgman settles on the affluent estate of Richard (Jeroen Perceval) and Marina (Hadewych Minis). He asks to come in for a bath, and is roundly beaten by the man of the house. Marina, however, falls under his spell (perhaps even literally) and helps conspire to get him hired as their gardener; once he’s clean shaven, that is. The ruse is successful, but by letting Borgman into her home, Marina unwittingly puts everyone tangentially connected to her family at risk. The bodies begin to pile up.


Is this a modern retelling of an old fable? A strange take on an typical science fiction tale (there is a ‘Body Snatcher’ vibe to Borgman’s army of followers)? Post modern commentary on Danish politics, or their Christian foundations? A bit of weird for the sake of weird? Oh, did you want me to answer any of those questions for you? I was just going to leave those half-baked readings here and back away slowly. Van Warmerdam’s detached, static direction seeks to confound above all else, dropping enough anchors – as mentioned above – to suggest something deeper under the surface. Yet, unlike in the masterful Dogtooth , whatever comment is being made here gets lost in the nutty mire. Also, at no point was I surprised by where the story was taking us. These things, at the very least, should be unpredictable beasts. Borgman is both indecipherable and unsurprising.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Borgman played the Sydney Film Festival.

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