Alex van Warmerdam’s ‘Borgman’ is strictly arthouse. Unlike formal methods of storytelling, Borgman doesn’t attempt to unveil the reasons behind what’s happening on the screen; not even once. The screenplay is slow, yet taut, gripping the viewer from frame one. Neither has it attempted to explain the story and the reasons behind the conflicts of its lead characters not even hinting it indirectly. The audience hopes that there might be some reason stated behind the unfolding terror bizarrely with the deepest silence in company. Till the last frame there hangs a thread of hope eagerly waiting to know why everything that has happened has happened for. This is why this cinema is tricky. Towards the end you wouldn’t be baffled even if you got nothing of what you hoped for- an explanation or a reason. That makes this cinematic experience strangely unique.
We meet Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) a wanderer, dwelling underground in the woods being hunted for something by a trio. He manages to slip from their hands and alerts a couple more underground dwellers before heading to residential area. There he pleas for having a bath in an upper middle class stranger’s house, right at his door steps. Annoyed by his behavior the resident Richard roughs him up and leaves. Having pitied Camiel his wife Marina lets him stay in secrecy.
Later in the middle act we witness the horrifying preparations of Camiel accompanied by his team of four unleashing brutal murders and he orchestrates a meticulously planned psychological trauma to the couple, eventually killing them. He somehow achieves to mesmerize Marina, as if by hypnosis, making her fall for him and desperately needing and even want her husband Richard killed by him. He and his team in the climax leave the house after having poisoned the couple, killing them.
The visuals are at a meditative pace never attempting to portray explicit violence. But the n the violence of the overall plot haunts the viewer. The terror that the narrative violence inflicts is in fact more profound that the portrayal of the same graphically might’ve achieved. Rather than reasons the filmmaker has focused on the way the act is perpetrated. No frame throws a clue for Borgman’s act- never it seems to be an act of revenge nor does he seem psychopathic- not even suggestively.
Some critics have observed this film as a class clash; Richard is evidently rich living a blessed bourgeois life and Borgman a wanderer. But this could hardly be justified given the way he takes on the gardener’s life. Killing the gardener and his wife if ever was a way to intrude Richard’s house as a gardener himself, Borgman would’ve opted for other easier options to kill. We see his accomplice strangling the gardener’s innocent wife.
At the wake of Borgman winning the nomination for Palm d’ Or in 2013 in one of his interviews van Warmerdam said through his film he looks at Good and Evil. “My idea is to show how evil can come in ordinary shapes and form”, he said besides quoting that he wanted to make a film that is open to different interpretations.
Borgman is a dark drama that inflicts psychological terror into your mind, twisting it in the most unexpected way. Post viewing this might haunt you for some time making you feel the vanity of life and its voidness. This is not an arthouse cake for everyone, to be precise.