TIFF 2013 | Borgman (Alex van Warmerdam, Netherlands)—Vanguard


By Jordan Cronk

Alex van Warmerdam’s Borgman opens not simply in media res but in mediam tumultus, as an unidentified mob (led, in true van Warmerdamian fashion, by a priest in full regalia) run roughshod across a dense forest floor, uncovering a hidden bunker outfitted with a small militia’s worth of assault weaponry. Roused from his slumber by the invading gang, a weathered, bearded man—identified later as the eponymous Borgman—flees his apparent assailants, seeking sanctuary in the home of a family soon to be divided over their visitor’s dubious motivations. This kinetic opening, besides being an effectively disorienting table-setter, is also a lofty bar to set for oneself, and despite van Warmerdam’s best efforts to maintain an atmosphere of suggestive ambiguity, Borgman ultimately becomes yet another of the director’s quaint allegories. Van Warmerdam’s allegorical conceits, however, have proven acute over the years, and in Borgman, the Dutch satirist’s preoccupation with class divisions and the effect individuals from different social strata have on one another is delivered in perhaps its angriest iteration yet. Borgman’s time spent on the lam is presented in van Warmerdam’s familiar mixture of dark comedy and absurdist drama, although this time with a heightened sense of the macabre, like Aki Kaurismäki retrofitting Pasolini’s Teorema through the lens of modern European capitalism. Once Borgman’s cadre of thugs join him in his suburban hideout, slowly “replacing” the hired help, the film inevitably sacrifices a bit of its previously suggestive tone. But judging by the film’s third-act turn towards brutality, coupled with that breathless opening sequence, it’s clear van Warmerdam has less whimsical intentions with this archly didactic fable of cultural contradiction.

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