Borgman is at times entrancing, surreal, darkly funny and full of questionable acts. The film involves a tramp encroaching upon a well-to-do family and the tensions that arise in each relationship because of it. Jan Bijvoet plays the tramp with warm care that can switch on a dime to malice and calculated ill intent. He can be telling the kids a bedtime story at one moment, and then dumping a body in a lake the next. Seeing this character work his magic is truly fascinating to watch.
Hadewych Minis has the other truly engaging performance in the film as the bored and frustrated housewife. Constantly battling the loneliness of her absentee and sometimes abusive husband, she finds herself more and more drawn to the tramp. She continues to do this when every bone in the audience’s body tells her not to. Watching her slow disintegration as the film progresses is entirely engrossing and fun to watch.
It’s that level of personal involvement that makes the film so effective. With the exception of a few scenes, most of the film takes place in the house and in a way feels almost theatrical. It’s as if the audience gets a first-hand look into the disintegration of a marriage already headed down the drain. Director Alex van Warmerdam does an excellent job of building the tension and keeps the film evenly paced.
Every scene builds from the previous one and keeps the forward momentum going strong. Borgman keeps building the tension and unease to the point where it’s almost unbearable. Warmerdam succeeds because the film is so arresting. The dinner scene involving all of the characters is a particular highlight. The film also excels because despite all of the strange and downright bizarre goings-on, Warmerdam still manages to pluck out moments of genuine, albeit rather dark humour to counterbalance it all.
If anything, Borgman makes for an excellent cautionary tale proving that you really need to be careful about whom you let into your house. Borgman is the official selection from the Netherlands to be nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar at next year’s Academy Awards. After having watched the film, I can definitely see why.
By Philip Clarke