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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 06.02.14] Netherlands scifi comedy fantasy



A man is chased from an underground bunker by a priest accompanied by two other men. There's no explanation as to why the bearded man is living under ground and being chased out of the village but since the hunting party includes a priest, one must assume that whatever the bearded man has done is pretty serious.

We soon discover that the bearded man is the titular Borgman (first name Camiel), the apparent leader of a group of transient misfits that stay connected via cell phones. After the narrow escape, Camiel makes his way to a nearby neighbourhood where the knocks on doors asking strangers to let him shower. It's a bold move but it's also clear that this isn't the first time he's done this and that he has more than just a shower in mind so when Camiel arrives at Richard and Marina's house and cases it like he's about to rob the place, it doesn't come as much of a surprise. What is surprising is that it isn't the contents of the house that interest the wanderer but rather the people in it.


Camiel approaches the house, incites a violent incident with Richard and then re-appears later that day to prey on Marina's good will. She bandages, feeds and even provides him with a place to sleep for a night. The one night quickly turns into a few nights and later a far more permanent set-up when Camiel returns to meet Richard under the guise of gardener. In the meantime, while Marina and Richard are dealing with the turbulence in their marriage, Camiel is making friends with the children and wondering around the house at night, in the nude, marking up the family.

Borgman is very bizarre; like a darkly weird modern fairly tale about a "magician" and his friends wreaking havoc on a family. What's not clear is why Camiel chooses this family. Does he fall in love with Marina when he first sees her? Does he sense that the family isn't as happy and idyllic as they appear on the surface? I'm not really sure what Camiel's motivation is but writer/director Alex van Warmerdam appears to be making some interesting observations not only on life but on the concept of culture.

On a second viewing, it seemed obvious that Borgman is an observation on how far youth culture is removed from the ideas of their parents. The need to settle down and own a house with nice things and at the cost of one's happiness is fading and being replaced by people's need to be constantly connected and experiencing things. In van Warmerdam's movie, Camiel is the catalyst for that change and the fact that the transition isn't smooth suggests that neither extreme is best and that happiness lays somewhere in between the two ideas.

Or perhaps Borgman is an observation on the class system or on society's misunderstanding of outsiders. Or maybe it's just a weird story about a group of strange individuals who enjoy causing trouble and who keep their way of life going by stealing people's children. They're all valid observations and the multiple readings are one of the reasons my mind has continued to wander back to it since I first saw it last September. It helps that aside from the compelling, if strange, story, there are flashes of horror that permeate throughout and Borgman takes the leap into full horror mode head first, particularly in the movie's final act.

Yes it's strange and creepy and occasionally impenetrable but Borgman remains not only compelling but hugely entertaining on multiple viewings. It's the kind of movie you don't mind revisiting in an attempt to figure it out because it's so damned fun to watch. It may be a bit too strange for mainstream audiences to latch onto but I expect those who give it a chance will be greatly rewarded. Cult status will likely follow.

Borgman opens in NY at Lincoln Plaza and IFC Center on June 6 and expands to wider markets on June 13 and further sill on June 20. See it with friends and then get drunk while trying to figure it out. Trust me, it's fun.

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