Resistance to this film is futile.
When we first meet Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet, Nowhere Man), he is hunkered down with some of his buddies in a sophisticated underground shelter. Before we know it, a group of priests raid the place, obviously looking to do “something” to the shaggy hobo and his crew. Immediately heading to suburbia, Borgman knocks on the door of the snobby couple Richard (Jeroen Perceval, Bullhead) and Marina (Hadewych Minis, Killer Babes), seeking shelter.
Instead, our eccentric is beaten by the dad and left to suffering. This leads to trouble between husband and wife. Without Richard knowing, Marina invites the stranger into their domain (bad move) and literally lets Borgman stay in one of the many outer houses on the estate. Soon, the oddball is endearing himself to their three children and sending sexual signals her way. And that’s just the beginning.
There are so many ways to read Borgman that, like the movie itself, they will all leave your head spinning. Imagine a far more menacing Boudu Saved from Drowning (or for you non-cinephiles, Down and Out in Beverly Hills) meshed with that amazing allegory Dogtooth and you get the idea. Sort of. For some, the movie will be a well-meaning examination of good vs. evil. Others will see it as a metaphor for temptation and the avoidance/embracing of same.
Religion plays a part here, as does the age old folklore of the area. You can even argue for the connections to modern macabre as well as old fashioned ghost stories involving the Boogeyman (Borgman? Boogeyman? See what we mean?). It’s all provocative without being problematic, writer/director Alex van Warmerdam using hints instead of hammers to get his points across.
Seeing the title character as a cunning manipulator with an ethereal aim may indeed be the best way to view Borgman. The moment the elitist couple allow the character into their home, he becomes a Cat in the Hat kind of presence. He messes things up in hopes of making a difference, so to speak. It’s all familiar fairy tale and badass Brothers Grimm territory.
There’s also a contemporary spin, considering that our frantic family can be easily viewed as people of privilege while Borgman and his bunch are clearly part of the 99%. You could subtitle this film “Occupy the Snobs” and you’d be in the ballpark. But van Warmerdam has more up his sleeve that social commentary. Borgman is a movie about human nature, and as we all know, the most dangerous animal on the planet is man.
As a foreign film, the viewpoint can be fractured at times. Indeed, this is a movie where many things go by without an ounce of logic or explanation. Eccentricity is one thing. Some of the events here border on the downright bizarre. Unlike David Lynch, who seems to thrive in such straightforward surrealist approaches, van Warmerdam has a harder time of it. There are brief moments where Borgman feels a bit forced, sequences (the white child, the fixation on dogs) that beg for the obvious and the blatant.
Still, for its more subtle stances, for those times when our brain is left baffled by what this horrid hobo and his back-obsessed clan might be after, Borgman is bountiful. It may not be a masterpiece, but what it does have to offer is as classic as said cinematic tour de forces.
The Blu-ray release of this film is a bit of a disappointment. The actual tech specs are very good. The bonus features are less than successful. We do get an amazing 28 page booklet, but the deleted scenes are a mere piffle. What we really want is a full length commentary track, or at the very least, a Q&A with van Warmerdam and the cast. Neither are present. At least the 2.35:1, 1080p transfer and DTS-HD 5.1 mix are terrific. They help lessen the impact of the underwhelming added content.
From its opening quote-“And they descended upon the earth to strengthen their ranks”-one can easily see that Borgman is based in fallen angels, otherworldly spirits, and age old human foibles. Heck, we have priests carrying shotguns right from the get-go. On the other hand, Alex van Warmerdam’s impressive parable can be read in many significant ways. It’s what makes this movie so very special indeed.
Not guilty. A true foreign gem.