A beautiful rendezvous between Dogtooth, Holy Motors and the Grimm brothers
Do you remember the green goblin who hijacked a model in the graveyard scene in Holy Motors? Imagine him entering the life of a dysfunctional, wealthy family in a neat suburb in Netherlands. Pour equal amounts of folklore, horror and humour into the pot. Spice it up with some Doogtoth flavoured absurdity.
This is my best attempt to explain the flavour of the Dutch movie Borgman, a film that isn’t altogether easy to label. IMDb has slapped a “thriller” tag to it, but I don’t think this is quite spot on. There may be someone out there who finds it scary. I wouldn’t recommend it to children, though clearly inspired by fairy tales, it would probably cause bad nightmares. But for me it was more funny than creepy, fascinating rather than thrilling. It’s a brew that doesn’t set out to make your blood boil. It’s one that you sip well chilled, with a smile on your face.
A modern Grimm story
The story begins as a party of armed men, ventures into to the forest to deal with the mysterious, demon-like man Borgman and his henchmen, who all live in small underground pits. However they fail and Borgman flees and ends up knocking on the door of the house where this wealthy family lives. He asks for them to let him have a bath. The man refuses, but the woman takes pity on him and secretly lets him into a guest room, unknowing of the evilness that she just has let in.
This is a dark and twisted story, where innocent people are manipulated and in some cases ultimately killed in the most horrific ways. But the way it’s told, you’re hardly likely to waste tears over the victims. Rather than being real human beings that you care about, they’re like puppets. It’s as if one of the Grimm brothers has risen from the grave and collected another story, an adult, uncensored one, with classical elements but put in the modern world. And the moral isn’t painted all over the place.
I’m certain that anyone who is into the combination of symbolism, religion and psychology will find plenty to dwell on in this film. It’s an excellent object for analysis. However analysis isn’t required to enjoy it. For instance I have absolutely no idea about the possible interpretations of the method they used to dispose with the corpses. It probably means something. However I could admire how imaginative it was and the visual effect of it. It’s an image that I won’t forget anytime soon, a piece of art in itself, in a good sense.
Not for everyone
I will probably think twice before I recommend Borgman to other people. It’s definitely not as challenging as Holy Motors or Dogtooth, but it definitely goes outside of the familiar territory of standard movies.
It doesn’t always make sense. In fact it isn’t realistic at all. It doesn’t follow the standard curve in plot development. And it doesn’t engage you emotionally in a way that you may expect from a thriller. On the other hand it’s not the most difficult, incomprehensive, artsy movie I ever saw either. You don’t need to be an introvert, pretentious elitist film snob to like it. But you need an open mind, which not everyone is fortunate enough to have.
Borgman (Alex van Warderdam, NL 2013) My rating: 4/5