"I've been ionized, but I'm okay now.”

Festival de Cannes 2013 Review: Borgman

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Director/Writer: Alex van Warmerdam

Starring: Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis, Jeroen Perceval, Alex van Warmerdam,

Synopsis: A mysterious figure works his way into the home of a middle-class family, corrupting their seemingly perfect life and developing unaccountable disequilibrium.

Throwing you into its barmy world from the get-go, Borgman is devilishly playful in its 113 minute runtime. Van Warmerdam concocts a scenario that feels like a combination of Coens black comedy, Jodorowsky-esque mysticism and Buñuelian farce. The latter comparison is perhaps the most palpable, with a dining room scene brazenly influenced by The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

Also like Buñuel, surrealism runs throughout. We start off following a trio of armed civilians (one being a priest) head into the woods, shooting beneath the ground. Under the shed leaves and tree roots lies Borgman, a skinny bearded man who escapes by tunnelling under the woodlands. The opening renders these eclectic images and ideas that work in grabbing your attention unfalteringly.

It continues as such, as Borgman infiltrates a bourgeoisie home and begins to manipulate the family. One way this happens is through a demonic breed of inception (DiCaprio’s Cobb hasn’t the skill that Borgman does), as Borgman sits atop the sleeping mother feeding thoughts of domestic violence into her dreams until she begins to fear her husband. This is just one element of the narrative’s implosive destruction, ideologically fascinating and artistically invigorating (especially given that Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare must have proved as some inspiration). What’s more, the mise-en-scène is infused with intricate details, sometimes missed on a first viewing and dotted around to enjoy on multiple viewings.

One other reason to re-watch the film is in hope to understand the overall raison d’être. The motivations are never explained and the audience is never given a reasonable conclusion. Some may hate the incompleteness, walking out confused and irritated. However, even as the end does seem flat and unfinished (even within its ambiguous parameters) Borgman is incredibly rich in its confoundedness. Searching for meaning is just as enjoyable as the basic linear narrative itself. It entertains to such a degree you yearn for an extra hour.

Jan Bijvoet in the lead holds the film on his shoulders with an impeccable energy. The character’s orchestration of unrest could provide the springboard for an over-the-top performance yet Bijvoet is graceful in his dance of destruction. It’s a subtle performance, almost silent as the family around scream and shout in their confusion. Hilariously, as the family become jitterier, Borgman composes himself to a gentlemanly demeanour – an image that illuminates the peculiarity perfectly.

Alex van Warmerdam warped mind is terrific fun, with Borgman revelling in its inanity. So much lies beneath the surface of the film and like the wife character that has her mind mutated by the eponymous anti-hero, the audience is at the mercy of the director and protagonist’s mischief.

****

Borgman was competing in the Official Competition selection at Cannes 2013

Check out all of our Cannes 2013 coverage.