A priest and two men with shotguns and improvised pikes chase a feral looking man from his roomy underground sanctuary in dense, ferny woods. As he makes his escape he alerts two companions who’re nestled in their own hidey holes. A quick wash up at a gas station, random knocks at doors in a suburban neighborhood, a beating, a sympathetic housewife who may or may not know the man and a modern day Rasputin begins to work his wiles on an unsuspecting family.
Even the most bare-bones set-up for Borgman is a couched spoiler alert so apologies all around. And let’s say to set the tone of the film we leave Haneke out of the Venn diagram of influences. You’ll still elbow past jarring tangents that traipse through Breillat and Buñuel territory as you trip down this badger hole of a film. It’s appalling and entertaining and genius.
This hunted man, Borgman (a fantastic Jan Bijvoet), seems to be a harbinger of comeuppance for innocent bystanders. Deadpan of demeanor, crouching over the sleeping housewife Marina (Hadewych Minis), he’s like some ancient raptor influencing her dreams. He goes about his murderous and masterly stage management with an almost detached disinterest in his own shenanigans emanating the forlornness of a penitent. After finagling his way into Marina’s sympathies he tries to leave saying “I’m bored, I want to play”. Already leaning into his influence she cajoles him into staying. In a different “capacity”. He’s stoically charismatic but possessed of none of a typical cult leader’s narcissism. He doesn’t seem to really need anything or anyone, even the cronies he enlists via cellphone. People begin to disappear. Marina’s husband, after his initial attack on Borgman and worried about his own job, comes under Borgman’s sway. So do the children. So does the live-in nanny. Cracks in the marriage become ulcerating fissures.
Is this a perverse modern take on a fairy tale? On consideration, when weren’t fairy tales perverse? Characters in the film, as in a fairy tale, just accept things. Honestly Red Riding Hood, your grandmother now sports a lupine snout and fur and you take time for twenty questions. There were people hunting Borgman. The body count is rising. Where are the authorities? Must be one of those next-village-next-universe situations.
Is it a study of altruistic and wrong-headed mind control á la Yorgos Lanthimos‘ terrific Dogtooth? For at least some of the characters in the film, Borgman’s influence seems to be a good thing. Is he offering freedom and a world with no guilt?
Or is this trickster perpetrating class warfare? Marina and her husband allude to their affluence and guilt. She has a spacious art studio. He’s a mid-level corporate shark. Borgman’s comrades are skilled and adaptive. At least one, we come to find, may have trained as a ballerina and another handles a pistol with a silencer like a covert operative.
And consider the Old Testament tone to the quote that opens the film.
Borgman bends reality around his players. Throughout the proceedings there’s a queasy malevolence that’s somehow devoid of maliciousness. The events are above judgement and are a judgement. The finale implies that Borgman’s thousand yard gaze is wearily always on the next game.
Too much has been said. Apologies again for spoiling anything. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 9/9/14