Directed by Alex van Warmerdam.
Starring Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis and Jeroen Perceval.
The arrival of Borgman in a middle-class family home has devastating results.
The opening sequence of Alex van Warmerdam’s shocking and eerily funny Borgman looks something straight out of an episode of Lost or some post-Apocalyptic movie. A dirty-looking man clad in hunting gear dresses, picks up his gun and lets the dog out. He fetches another character, who has honed his weapons to a sharp and lethal point, and off they set. When we see a priest saying mass in church we are pretty sure that this is the man they are after. Instead, the priest slips out of his liturgical vestments and into his civvies, picks up a shotgun and off he heads into the forest with the others. This is no ordinary hunting party: their prey are a group of men hiding out in underground lairs.
We follow one of these men as he escapes through the forest, enters suburbia and chooses random homes in search of a bath. Arriving at the home of Marina (Hadewych Minis) and Richard (Jeroen Perceval), Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) – for it is he – manages to wheedle his way into the family home. Not only does he get a bath, he gets five-star treatment from Marina, who feels guilty for her husband’s earlier violent behaviour to this mysterious travelling man. Borgman also begins a rapport with Isolde, the couple’s youngest child, and gradually insinuates himself in the family’s life.
But who is this mystery man and why was a priest trying to kill him? This soon becomes clear as we see the naked Borgman hunched over the sleeping Marina. He looks like a William Blake Devil and we are now aware that we are dealing with a dark presence. Just like the Devil, Borgman has his own minions ready to perform duties, which include impersonating doctors, putting on theatre shows and murdering anyone who gets in the way of their plans. Borgman’s servants also appear in shape-shifting form, leading to another comic moment.
There are wonderful moments showing the couple’s racism. Marina berates the nanny Stine (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen) with the phrase “you’re not in Denmark now!” and when Borgman needs to infiltrate the house as the new gardner, he pays a group of black and Middle Eastern men to apply for the job with him. Richard’s relief at finding a white man is such that he lets him move into the guest wing immediately and has no recognition of the man he had so savagely beaten just days before. This relief is short-lived as Borgman and his cohorts take increasing control of the family.
It is this intertwining of horror and comedy that makes Borgman such entertaining viewing.Van Warmerdam has created a macabre tale that induces guffaws of laughter, often at the expense of a brutally murdered victim. And what he shows so brilliantly is how easy it is for us to ignore danger when it appears to us in an innocuous form. An unusual and terrible tale made credible thanks to Bijvoet’s mesmerising performance as the Devil in disguise.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Jo Ann Titmarsh