FEATURING: Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis, Sara H. Ditlevsen

PLOT:  A dangerous group of criminals are lead by a strangely charismatic man named Camiel Borgman, who terrorizes a family after being let into their home.

Still from Borgman (2013)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  Dumping dead bodies in a lake and taking a dip right after is weird, but what about strange underground criminals who perform dark ballets on other people’s property just for their own amusement?

COMMENTS: With a keen focus on power and class, Borgman unravels the culture behind malignant societal ills by dissecting its basic unit (the family), citing examples such as sexism, classism, and a general need to be better off than one’s neighbor.  Although he is compared to in numerous reviews, Borgman director Alex Van Warmerdam seems to be less patient, more starkly manical. This makes Borgman full of surprises from start to finish. It’s cohesive and bursting with ideas. It’s fair to say the film’s cerebral aspect alone is completely riveting and preposterously strange, and its characters have a drastic range in their behavior. They can be repulsive, but then they are cool and funny. The maliciousness of Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) is casual, but it’s not surprising that both he and his companions Ludwig and Pascal (Alex van Warmerdam and Tom Dewispelaere respectively) are given the narrative leverage to pull some laughs while scaring us.

Stine, played by Sara H. Ditlevsen is absolutely beautiful, and Hadewych Minis’ Marina is truly mesmerizing. The way the two female leads cater to the men in the story is erotic but dangerous; we watch as it leads to cruelty. There is a strong and intentionally obvious message concerning the guilt of having too much, of looking out upon society and realizing that you are simply better off than most people, but it’s just an aside. Borgman deals mostly with the eradication of the family unit, a demonstration of how abuse leads to distance and betrayal. Richard (Jeroen Perceval) heads the family and he is a racist misogynist if there ever was one. We watch as his own demons consume him in various forms. There is a plentitude of weird creepiness concerning this family and their interaction with Camiel Borgman and his unusually loyal posse, and it makes for a compelling and mystical viewing experience.

Borgman is incredibly dreamy, and a feeling of almost whimsical, drifting terror is delivered in master strokes. It is relentless. Strangely enough, it does not give the impression that it would make a great midnight movie, or even a good cult film, but that doesn’t stop its strangeness from being potent and penetrating. While seeming to borrow heavily from major independent thrillers like Timecrimes, Funny Games and perhaps even No Country for Old Men (the meticulous and calm way Borgman is shown scraping poisonous resin across a serving bowl), Borgman maintains a freshness that is disturbing, dark, cerebral and exhilarating. It has a chilly and dark atmosphere. The heaviness of small details psychically nestle in your brain just enough to hint at the true malice being shown. The result is magnificent anxiety. Bijvoet’s Borgman is entrancing both because of his extraordinary power over people and his relentless brutality for the sake of an unidentified gain. Only hints are given at the intention behind his and malice, so generalized that it’s ultimately up to the viewer to determine what the true meaning is, if any at all. Bijvoet’s performance has range. He portrays coldness, creepiness, tenderness, and brutality all with equalized vigor. He is calm quiet, powerful, and definitely represents larger concepts.

As for the most important aspect of Borgman to us—its weirdness—the actions of the characters are so ridiculous (and sometimes insidious) that the whole thing ends up being slightly surreal. It is also very comical. The label given by critics for this movie as a straight dark comedy is acceptable here, but there is much more to it than that. The end will have most people scratching their heads, in a good way; it gives the movie great replay value, and it’s almost terrifying in its creepiness. I didn’t much enjoy Dogtooth, the domestic satire most associated with this movie; I found Borgman to be much more exciting in its ability to borrow from so many other movies but still be original. In the end, it was the small details, the humor, the subtlety in performance and image that combined to make Borgman lasting, dark, and really, really weird.


Filled with surreal touches and shocking scenes of black humor, Borgman steams ahead with the power and inevitability of a nightmare.”–Tirdad Derakhshani, The Philadelphia Inquirer (contemporaneous)

4 thoughts on “LIST CANDIDATE: BORGMAN (2013)”

  1. Saw this yesterday before reading any reviews – the first five minutes hint at a very different movie than what we end up with. The scene where Marina sees the dog in the garage could have veered off into something both more and less strange too (trying to avoid spoilers).

    Perhaps not an original idea, but how much of what added to the overall oddness is just my unfamiliarity with the Dutch? E.g., I was hung up on the gardner’s tie – he seemed overdressed. The fact that they have this large house and all three kids sleep in one small room. And so on.

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