Borgman, a psychological thriller written and directed by Alex van Warmerdam, was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and was selected as the Dutch Entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards. (It did not receive the nomination.) Drafthouse Films picked it up and it’s now in limited-release here in the States. It’s a challenging movie and it’s polarizing, but it is also rewarding if you’re into thought-provoking cinema.
The movie starts with a quote: “and they descended upon the earth to strengthen their ranks.” The opening scene shows vagrant, Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) being chased out of his underground dwelling in the woods by two hunters and a shotgun-wielding priest. Borgman notifies his pals- also underground- and escapes into suburbia. The beautifully filmed scene is surreal and is never explained. It is a microcosm of the entire picture.
Borgman knocks on doors asking if he can take a bath. One resident (Jeroen Perceval) becomes impatient and delivers the furry stranger a potent beat down. The man’s wife (Hadewhych Minis) feels bad for Borgman and unbeknownst to her husband, she shelters him in a spare room detached from their upper middle class home.
It would be a disservice to tell you any more of the story. Even if I revealed it all, you’d still have to figure out what the movie means to you. There are no easy answers and while the ambiguity may frustrate some viewers, it will give others plenty to think about and discuss/debate. Is the seemingly harmless Borgman as innocent as he comes across, or is he a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Who/what are his accomplices? What does it all mean? I’ve seen it twice now and I’m still connecting the dots. As the oft-cited phrase goes, this is a film that demands repeat viewings.
Though it’s not explicitly detailed, there is something supernatural at hand and Borgman is loaded with symbology- religious and otherwise. The more knowledge of these matters you bring to the movie, the more you’ll take from the experience. It works on many levels though, and a working knowledge of religion and folklore isn’t necessary to enjoy the film, though it certainly helps. I’ve heard Camiel Borgman likened to many things including God, the Devil, an angel, a fallen angel, a demon, an incubus, and an alp. The name Camiel (better known as Camael) is that of an angel in Christian mythology that helped lead the forces that expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden- something to keep in mind while watching the movie (especially during the garden scenes).
The acting is superb, especially from Jan Bijvoet who embodies the enigmatic title character with great skill. Hadewych Minis also does a fantastic job. The film is directed with a steady hand and van Warmerdam manages to craft a unique tone. There isn’t a ton of action on-screen, and it’s a bit of a slow-burn, but Borgman makes up for it with how deep it is. This is a thinking man’s movie; something to check out and ponder.
I give it 4 out of 5 Nerdskulls.
Check out the trailer:
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