Borgman, The Netherlands' Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. U.S. :Drafthouse Films. International Sales Agent: Fortissimo Films
Occasionally in the vast spectrum of cinema, one gets to witness a peculiar dark vision, which innovates the horror or suspense genres, a story that refuses to abide by any standards of normalcy or political correctness. These rare works dare to explore the uncomfortable wickedness of the human condition with uncompromising audacity. While difficult to classify, they leave an indelible and haunting impression.
Unavoidably, some rely unsuccessfully on explicitly brutal images rendering the piece lurid. It is perhaps those works that create a subtle tense atmosphere grounded on the quotidian that truly penetrate the psyche. After all, there is nothing more terrifying than to know evil lures in the seemingly mundane and that everyone is a plausible victim. Taking advantage of such unsettling distress, Alex van Warmerdam’s Borgman is a film that corrodes the viewer’s perception of morality with masterful skill and insane originality.
Literally unearthed by a trio of executioners led by a priest, a dark character Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet), and his followers must abandoned their subterranean caves in the forest like demons expelled from hell. Demanding they wait for his instructions, Borgman leaves his disciples behind and goes on the prowl. Disguised as a common disheveled vagabond he walks through affluent neighborhoods knocking on doors to request permission to take a bath. His unusual but apparently innocent plea is denied. He knows that a friendly appeal to people’s generosity won’t work, so he changes his approach. When hotheaded T.V. producer Richard (Jeroen Perceval) answers the door and opposes to let him into his home, Borgman claims to know his wife Marina (Hadewych Minis). Instantly infuriated Richard gives him a beating leaving the man visibly injured. Rapidly, this inciting incident escalates into an unpredictably deranged narrative.
Remorseful and ashamed for her husband’s behavior Marina lets Borgman take a bath in her opulent house. She feeds him and allows him to sleep in the
summerhouse on the outskirts of the enormous property without Richard knowing. Easily manipulating the woman into letting him stay longer, Borgman hides in
plain sight and carries himself with an otherworldly confidence. He sneaks into her children’s’ bedroom to tell them stories about a mysterious boy, and he
observes Marina and Richard as they sleep, apparently polluting their dreams with violent imagery.
What begins as an act of kindness from Marina’s part develops into something much more sinister as she becomes her more fervent devotee. She is in love with this alluring stranger as if hypnotized into submission. Borgman’s agenda begins unfolding when he kills the family’s gardener to take his place and brings his equally depraved minions to join in the fun. Bodies floating at the bottom of a nearby lake, children undergoing unexplained surgical procedures, and a meticulously heartless demeanor to carry it all out, are all part of Borgman’s messianic plan.
With an unnerving calmness, Belgian actor Jan Bijvoet plays the disturbing fake prophet of evil superbly. Borgman’s composure and unscrupulous practicality as he orchestrates such heinous acts are bafflingly gripping. There is no way to foresee what his twisted logic has in store, as he never shows signs of irrationality. Bijvoet’s contained performance is incredibly powerful because it is indecipherable and full of dreadful certainty.
No outbursts of madness or overly gruesome sequences are required. Everything that evokes fear resides in this charming man whose motives are unclear, yet harrowingly intriguing. His subdued magnetism obliterates Marina’s consciousness. Played with marvelous fragility by Hadewych Minis, she turns into the perfect vehicle to ravage this family and strengthen his ranks, as the opening quote warns.
Avoiding the clichéd preconception that implies terrible things only happen at night, the story takes place almost entirely during the day and it's shot with pleasant brightness. The clan’s presumably flawless methods enable them to diligently carry out their despicable tasks unafraid of any consequences. Alex van Warmerdam, who is also in the film as Ludwig, Borgman’s most efficient assistant, crafted a tale with a fascinatingly strange tone, but with and evident focus on the nature of control.
Deceptive at first, the film might come across as darkly comedic or satirical, but this reaction is clearly one’s attempt to comprehend how viciousness can be enacted with such restraint. Make no mistake, Borgman is a morbid study that pushes the boundaries and examines human’s predisposition for violent behavior. Raising more questions than for which it provides answers, the film revels in the psychological implications of the horrifying occurrences. Unique and directed with uncanny precision, this is a work of absolute diabolic brilliance by an unquestionable visionary.
"Borgman" opens in Los Angeles on June 20th, at the Landmark Nuart Theater