Sunday, June 8, 2014

Review: Borgman

Image courtesy of Drafthouse Films.
Alex van Warmerdam's extremely peculiar "Borgman," which debuted at last year's Cannes Film Festival to a decent amount of acclaim, is a strange mixture of several sources, including Luis Bunuel's anti-bourgeois films of the 1960s and 1970s, Giorgos Lanthimos' delirious "Dogtooth" and Michael Haneke's grim "Funny Games."

"Borgman" is a compellingly strange movie that can't quite be called a home invasion thriller due to the fact that the titular creep has actually been invited into the home of the family where he ends up wreaking all manner of havoc. And, for a while, it drew me in. It's not one of those films where I expected some answer as to what it all meant or to understand Borgman's ultimate plans, but rather I was intrigued to see where this unusual film was taking me - that is, until it began to meander up to an inevitable conclusion rife with heavy-handed fairy tale symbolism.

So, it's fair to say that "Borgman" is partially a movie of interest. The picture opens with the titular character awakening in an underground hovel in the woods and fleeing from a gun-toting priest, a lawman and some other fella with a large, mean looking dog. We never find out exactly why Borgman is on the run, but we gather he's in deep.

He approaches the home of a well-to-do family, rings the doorbell and asks if he can take a shower. He eventually angers the temperamental husband who answers the door and receives a violent beating. Later, the man's wife feels guilty for her husband's actions and allows Borgman to hide out in a shack in the family's backyard.

Through a series of odd circumstances, Borgman kills the family's gardener, shaves off his unruly hair and beard and appears at the door once again, this time answering the family's ad for a new gardener, a process which proves the husband to not only be a violent man, but also a racist. Slowly, Borgman begins to manipulate the female members of the family - the wife, two daughters and the young nanny - and things quickly get very strange. Four other members of Borgman's entourage show up and assist with the proceedings, which devolve into madness and murder.

The film has a stark visual style that recalls Haneke's "Funny Games," a controversial picture about a home invasion that has its followers, but which is among my least favorite of the brilliant Austrian director's oeuvre. Due to its somewhat absurd content, "Borgman" is occasionally mordantly funny.

But while there is a fair amount to admire here, van Warmerdam's picture ultimately falls apart toward the end. As I mentioned before, I don't require closure or explanation in movies, but it's nice to have some clue as to where a filmmaker is aiming. "Borgman" could be another in a long line of European films that attack bourgeois values, but I don't think that's exactly what is going on here. As a horror film of sorts, it's clearly going for more than just thrills.

Although equally strange, "Dogtooth," by comparison, is a bit more inventive narratively and visually and gives the viewer more to chew on. "Borgman" is effective enough - it's performances are good, it's often creepy and it's frequently unsettling. But, ultimately, that's not quite enough.

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