×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Film Review: ‘Borgman’

A sly, insidious and intermittently hilarious domestic thriller that is likely to remain one of the most daring selections of this year's Cannes competish.

With:
Hadewych Minis, Jan Bijvoet, Jeroen Perceval, Sara Hjort Ditlevsen, Elve Lijbaart; Dirkje van de Pijl, Pieter-Bas de Waard, Eva van de Wijdeven, Annet Malherbe, Tom Dewispelaere, Mike Weerts, Gene Bervoets, Ariane Schluter, Pierre Bokma, Alex van Warmerdam. (Dutch, English dialogue)

If Michael Haneke had a slightly less ironic appreciation of the term “funny games,” he might have cooked up something a little like “Borgman,” a sly, insidious and intermittently hilarious domestic thriller that is likely to remain one of the most daring selections of this year’s Cannes competish. More disquieting than explicit, this eighth feature from Dutch writer-helmer Alex van Warmerdam, who also features memorably in the ensemble, strikes a familiar note in its allegorical punishment of the entitled upper classes, but the execution is sufficiently inventive to mark the pic as a challenge worth accepting for adventurous arthouse distribs.

For the sake of descriptive economy, it’s tempting to classify “Borgman” (named for its oddly passive-aggressive chief villain) as another entry in the increasingly popular subgenre of the home-invasion thriller, but that would misrepresent the film’s more complex premise. “Home inveigling” or even “home infection” would be closer to the mark: Many of the most horrific domestic violations in this story occur with the permission of the family under threat, lending a Pinter-esque slant to van Warmerdam’s slow-burning narrative.

A cryptic opening sequence isn’t rendered any less so by later events. As an unidentified man swallows a pickled herring at his kitchen counter (clarifying, if nothing else, that we are most certainly in the Netherlands), a priest-led manhunt is taking place outside. The apparent target, middle-aged, lank-haired Borgman (Jan Bijvoet), is rudely awoken from a nap in his sophisticated underground shelter, and beats a hasty retreat with his similarly concealed cohorts.

Seeking refuge in suburbia, Borgman rings the doorbell of wealthy married couple Marina (Hadewych Minis, excellent) and Richard (Jeroen Perceval) and politely asks to use their shower. When Richard, understandably befuddled, refuses, Borgman’s calm refusal of this refusal aggravates Richard into a violent physical attack, one that crucially puts him on the moral back foot with his wife for the rest of the film.

Guilt-stricken and oddly aroused by this implacable stranger, Marina ends up secretly sheltering him in one of their large estate’s outhouses; it’s not long, however, before he’s creeping about inside the house and endearing himself to the couple’s three preteen children, who assume he’s a kind of shaman. Which, indeed, he might well be: His next trick is winning an unwitting Richard’s approval by bumping off the family gardener and masquerading as a new one. When his fellow travelers arrive to assist with the re-landscaping, it’s clear some family remodeling is in the cards, too.

It’s at this point that the film, after initially flirting with a more whimsical tone, takes a decisive turn for the macabre and never looks back. The weight of suspense then shifts to the inner-family dynamic, as Borgman’s crew begins subtly playing Marina against her increasingly paranoid husband. Not that the film feels particularly bad for Richard, who is made rather unsubtly to represent everything that’s detestable about the One Percent (or higher Dutch equivalent): Refusing to hire non-white household staff without diplomas, he barks at his wife, “We’re from the West; it’s affluent. That’s not our fault.”

In a sleek technical package, production designer Geert Paredis’ modern, warmly textured but uninvitingly spacious family house reps a significant asset to the drama. Editor Job ter Burg limits the film’s most violent jolts to a handful of brutal dream sequences, but horror-film rhythms and imagery are wisely kept to a minimum elsewhere. Instead, this is the kind of film that finds droll pleasure in the sight of dead heads setting in buckets of cement.

Cannes Film Review: 'Borgman'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 19, 2013. Running time: 113 MIN.

Production: (Netherlands-Belgium-Denmark) A Fortissimo Films presentation of a Graniet Film production in association with Epidemic, Angel Films. (International sales: Fortissimo Films, Amsterdam.) Produced by Marc van Warmerdam. Co-producers, Eurydice Gysel, Koen Mortier, Mogens Glad, Tine Mosegaard.

Crew: Directed, written by Alex van Warmerdam. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Tom Erisman; editor, Job ter Burg; music, Vincent van Warmerdam; production designer, Geert Paredis; set decorator, Peggy Verstraeten; costume designer, Stine Gundmundsen-Holmgreen; sound (Dolby Stereo), Peter Warnier; visual effects supervisor, Dennis Kleyn; visual effects, Planet X FX; line producer, Berry van Zwieten; associate producer, Jan Vrints; assistant director, Willem Quarles van Ufford; casting, Annet Malherbe.

With: Hadewych Minis, Jan Bijvoet, Jeroen Perceval, Sara Hjort Ditlevsen, Elve Lijbaart; Dirkje van de Pijl, Pieter-Bas de Waard, Eva van de Wijdeven, Annet Malherbe, Tom Dewispelaere, Mike Weerts, Gene Bervoets, Ariane Schluter, Pierre Bokma, Alex van Warmerdam. (Dutch, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home

    Film News Roundup: Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home for Christmas'

    In today’s film news roundup, “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” is in the works, the NFL has made a documentary about female team owners and D Street Pictures has signed Kenny Gage and Devon Downs to direct the dance feature “Move.” HOLIDAY PROJECT More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, All-Female Salute [...]

  • Michael B. Jordan arrives at the

    Michael B. Jordan to Star in Warner Bros.' 'Methuselah' Movie

    Michael B. Jordan will produce and star in a “Methuselah” movie for Warner Bros., based on the Biblical story of a man who lived to be 969 years old. Jordan will produce through his Outlier Society production company along with Heyday’s David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford. More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, [...]

  • Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping

    Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping Italy's Top Film Awards

    Piera Detassis recently became the first woman to head the David di Donatello Awards, Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars. Since then she’s been busy overhauling the inner workings of the prizes that will be awarded on Wednesday. Detassis, also the editor of Italian film publication Ciak, spoke exclusively to Variety about the challenges she’s faced [...]

  • Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards

    Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards Race

    With 15 nominations Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman” leads the pack of contenders for Italy’s David di Donatello Awards in a watershed year for the country’s top film nods that sees highbrow auteur titles reaping most of the David love just as local box-office grosses hit an all-time low. Garrone’s gritty revenge drama is followed closely with [...]

  • steven spielberg Apple TV Plus

    Steven Spielberg's Apple Appearance Riles Up Social Media: 'Big Old Mixed Message'

    Many Hollywood heavyweights flocked to Apple’s Cupertino, Calif. headquarters to help reveal the tech giant’s revamped steaming service Apple TV+ on Monday — but one such legend was so polarizing he became a national trending topic on Twitter for simply showing his face. Steven Spielberg was the first to appear in a dramatic short film [...]

  • Michael Lynne

    Former New Line Co-Chairman Michael Lynne Dies at 77

    Michael Lynne, the former co-chairman of New Line Cinema who played a key role in shepherding the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, has died at his New York home. He was 77. Lynne’s death was confirmed Monday by longtime business partner Robert Shaye, who told Variety that Lynne’s family had informed him of Lynne’s passing [...]

  • Marisa Liston

    Sony Veteran Marisa Liston to Lead Lionsgate Movie Publicity

    Lionsgate has named Sony Pictures veteran executive Marisa Liston to lead all feature film and motion picture group publicity and communications strategy. Liston, who departed Sony in late 2018 after 17 years, has been assigned the newly created title of head of global earned media and communications. She will oversee domestic and international feature film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content