'Borgman': Vagabond bedevils Dutch suburbia
Capitalism hasn't exactly collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions, as Marxists of yore predicted. But it's hard to deny that it has grown rather soft, flabby, fat - its arteries a little too clogged for its own good.
One old Marxist, Italian poet-director Pier Paulo Pasolini, took aim at our system's underbelly with savage glee in his 1968 classic Teorema, about a beautiful Christlike figure who is welcomed into the house of an affluent family only to destroy it from within, seducing the husband, the wife, and their teenage kids.
More than a half-century later, Dutch auteur Alex van Warmerdam goes after the same target with Borgman, a remarkable, thoroughly disturbing creepshow that burrows deep under your skin and refuses to let go.
Borgman, which pays homage both to Teorema and Michael Haneke's savage home invasion fantasy, Funny Games, opens with an almost mythic, fairy-tale prologue set in a rural village. We watch as a savage-looking vagabond named Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) is roused from his underground lair by a murderous group of gun-toting men - one of whom is the local priest!
We're given little explanation, except that the community is tired of putting up with the backward squatters whom Borgman has parked on their doorstep.
Borgman escapes by the skin of his teeth, eventually arriving at an affluent suburb, where he goes in search of a new abode. He smacks his lips when he happens upon Marina (Hadewych Minis), a housewife with a weakness for strays who agrees to nurse his wounds. Marina's pity intensifies when her husband, media executive Richard (Jeroen Perceval), gives Borgman a beating and throws him off their property.
Borgman eventually insinuates himself into the family, weaving his strange spell as he comes into contact with the couple's three young children and their nanny, Margot. People are drawn to Borgman's animal magnetism, his uninhibited exhibitionism, his apparent frankness.
Before long, Borgman's retinue of feral followers shows up to wreak havoc on our suburban family.
Filled with surreal touches and shocking scenes of black humor, Borgman steams ahead with the power and inevitability of a nightmare.
Van Warmerdam doesn't spell out an agenda in Borgman, preferring to keep things loose, elliptical, ambiguous. But it's safe to say his film is a cautionary tale of sorts - a reminder of the deep rift, even hatred, that has grown between rich and poor, and a warning about how soft we've become, and how alienated from our animal nature.
What is not ambiguous is its power to inspire dread and wreak aesthetic havoc in the viewer.
Borgman ***1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Alex van Warmerdam. With Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis, Jeroen Perceval. In Dutch with English subtitles. Distributed by Drafthouse Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 53 mins.
Parent's guide: Not rated (disturbing imagery, sexuality, violence, profanity).
Playing at: Ritz Bourse.