Horrorella Reviews the Fascinating and Complex BORGMAN!
Hey guys! Horrorella here...
Alex van Warmerdam’s BORGMAN is certainly a mysterious film - one that questions the nature of good and evil and examines how evil takes shape, without ever really drawing any conclusions. Part home invasion thriller, part dark comedy, part wicked fairy tale - it shifts guises just as seamlessly as its titular character seems to, and tells a mysterious, ever-changing story that is difficult to pin down.
The film opens with two farmers and priest arming themselves with rifles and charging into the woods, where they roust a group of vagrants from underground sanctuaries. The vagrants manage to escape, with the promise that they would be in touch and regroup later. One of them, a wiry, thin man with overgrown grey hair called Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet), makes his way through the countryside and to the home of a wealthy family, where he knocks on the door and asks for a bath. The patriarch, Richard (Jeroen Perceval) staunchly refuses, even going so far as to attack the man when he claims to know Marina, Richard's wife. Marina (Hadewych Minis) takes pity on the Borgman, secretly offering him a bath, food and refuge in their guest house, unbeknownst to Richard. But little does she know the power of what she has just allowed into her home, which will soon take root in their lives.
It's home invasion by way of Michael Haneke. Much like his FUNNY GAMES, BORGMAN brings about a new and unexpected kind of intruder - one that you might not consider dangerous, at first glance. But under even the most pleasant of guises can hide a snake, and it isn’t long before we begin to understand that this strange and mysterious man is much more than he appears to be.
Borgman himself is something of a Dracula character, with his ability to quietly bend others to his will. He is certainly not a commanding presence - quite the contrary, actually. His initial interactions with both Richard and Marina reveal him to be a polite, soft-spoken gentleman, despite his ragged appearance. And while not imposing, he always seems to have control over the situations and people that he encounters.Through his many subtle suggestions, he manages to work his way into this family’s home and into their lives before they even realize what is happening.
Borgman is a fascinating character. He is all at once captivating and frightening, thanks in large part to his portrayal by Bijvoet. It is an elegant and understated performance that draws you in and holds you captive. At times, he is a kindly stranger, lulling the children to sleep. At others, he is almost a Freddy Krueger-like figure, holding sway over your dreams and turning them into nightmares. And at still others, he is a playful trickster, using this family and their lives simply to entertain himself. It’s really a fascinating role, and one that Bijvoet brings to life in an incredibly compelling, yet subtle way.
And though we watch him manipulate his surroundings, we are never privy to his thoughts or this plans. Apart from seeking refuge in the early moments of the film, Borgman's intentions are never fully laid out on the table. We just get cursory glimpses and enough suggestion to understand that everything upon everything is playing into his hand. Every one of his actions is skillfully planned and executed, but it’s more than just a con game. He has the deck stacked in his favor, but you can’t even really see how. All you can do is watch it all come together.
As haunting as the character of Borgman is, equally captivating is the way van Warmerdam chooses to spin this strange tale. The way we see the story unfold, the strange, almost dreamlike images he chooses to fill the screen and the dark humor that accompanies much of the film all merge to give BORGMAN a fantastic tone, allowing it to bridge reality and myth and bring a bit of dark magic into our world.
It is a fascinating film that meditates on the nature of evil, yet refrains from drawing any hard conclusions. Is evil intentional? Is it conniving? What are you in for when you open your lives to strangers? Are Marina and Richard hapless victims of this man/creature? Or are they just reaping what that sowed when Richard attacked and turned Borgman away from his home? It is at once a fable warning you to help those in need, because you never know who is actually asking, and also warning you to keep your distance and stay away from strangers.
BORGMAN is truly a unique piece of cinema. The film certainly raises more questions than it answers, but it is from the asking and the contemplation of those questions that the film draws its strength. This is a story that will stick with you long after leaving the theater, its haunting essence a remnant of the powers of Borgman himself.
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