By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Over the last decade, Greece has cemented its place as the capital of Bizarre European cinema with films like Dogtooth, Attenberg, and Alps. However, with the truly strange, yet provocative Borgman, The Netherlands is making its move.
Hmmm, shit, how to describe this plot? Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) and his homeless mafia begin to insinuate themselves into the lives and household of a rich family with hidden, yet emerging fault-lines. What is their undoubtedly sinister plan, and how will it play out?
Borgman is a truly bizarre film, but its strangeness sneaks up on you. The film operates entirely according to its own internal logic, as does the mysterious homeless cabal at its center, and neither are interested whatsoever at clueing the audience in as to wtf is happening. Why is this part of my Toast, you ask? Because Director Alex van Warmerdam is a master of tone, suspense, and timing (and delivers a meticulously well-shot film to boot), and you can’t help but be drawn into his mysterious world, as each plot escalation just digs the hook in deeper.
Or dries the cement around your head, if you will.
The inevitable violence is brutal, but unfussy and undramatic, which just accentuates the horror when it happens. Murder is just a matter of course to these people, a means to an end. Bijvoet is simply excellent as the enigmatic, yet also charismatic Borgman. He’s almost a sympathetic character at first, but even then you know there’s something… off about the man, and his subtle insidious nature becomes more apparent even as his intentions become less so.
I’m perfectly fine with the villains’ (?) motivations being inscrutable- that just makes them scarier. However, when the family’s actions are exactly as opaque, it just makes them stupid. Brainwashing accounted for this behavior in Dogtooth, but the wife in particular here has no such excuse. Surely there are less iffy ways of getting some strange than creepy drifters. And don’t get me started on the little girl…
We Need to Talk About Isolde… seriously.
Oh yeah, and at what point does the husband ask logical questions like, “Why are there four gardeners now?”, “Why are they tearing up the backyard?” or “Why are they putting on a bizarre ballet?”
In the end, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to take away from this. The wife at one point does say “We are lucky and the lucky must be punished” and there are more shades of class commentary in the film, like how the nanny is treated, but this is far from a Michael Haneke-style deconstruction of entitlement and privilege. If this is what van Warmerdam is shooting for, he doesn’t develop it very much. In the end you’re pleased with the journey, but not entirely sure where you ended up.
Borgman lands right at the cross-roads of a cerebral European arthouse flick and a nasty Brothers Grimm-style fairytale. If that sounds like your jam, you won’t be disappointed.
Take a Drink: every time the… homeless mafia? show up
Take a Drink: whenever Borgman says something nonsensical
Take a Drink: for naked chest sitting (you’ll know it when you see it)
Take a Drink: whenever Borgman says… “I’m here.”
Do a Shot: for bath time
Do a Shot: for scars