Thursday, July 10, 2014


The movie Borgman by Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam is quite a ride. A bizarre movie. You know, that kind of movie you are sitting in and you are so perplexed and excited by what's happening that afterwards you need to just sit down on a park bench and process what you just saw.

The film starts with an almost throwaway epigraph: "And they descended upon the Earth to strengthen their ranks" and the camera pans a spring countryside that has not yet come to life. Swarthy-looking men are gathering, getting weapons (one is a priest) and deliberately moving towards something violent. But we are left in the dark, never sure where our footing is. Nor is this conflict ever really explained or detailed.

Men are hiding in the Earth underground and when they hear the other men with guns and swords approaching, they escape. Barely. This is not a mystical or CGI kind of experience. It's quite literal and very engaging: men running through thickets of trees, terrified of getting caught.

Then later, one of these men (looking like a homeless guy) shows up at the door of a wealthy Dutch family and asks if he can take a bath. When he is turned away, violence erupts but now it's too late: the sympathetic wife secrets him into the back guesthouse after the husband has left for work. Is this homeless-looking man up to something nefarious? Clearly he is but it's never made clear. Later his friends join him in the seduction of this family and the movie continues along almost like a parable, an allegory though there is no nice framework to set alongside the movie that makes the parable-like allusions clear.

I kept asking: "What is happening?" from beginning to end. It's not that it didn't make sense logically but there is no sense of  movie-logic here: things move along as if pre-destined and the actions of the characters are not mandated by free will. Other odd allusions: X's mysteriously tattooed on backs; scars on characters' bodies; surgeries being done on children which are never explained. Issues of class play in the background but nothing is ever determined nor is there a "message" to take away. Is it a treatise on destiny or fate? Are we supposed to feel nihilistic at the way our class determines our futures so that we have very little free will in shaping our own futures? Or is this reading too much into it?

It's a very interesting film and one I want to see again if only to get closer to some kind of resolution. Make more mistake: one doesn't leave this film understanding anything more than when one first arrives at it. But in terms of how movies operate, it's worth seeing and the acting is stellar.

Borgman is playing at Cinema du Parc all this week and next.

No comments:

Post a Comment