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'Borgman': A Murderous Black Comedy About The Sick Soul Of Europe

A naked Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) crouches over Marina (Hadewych Minis) as she sleeps in 'Borgman'. (Courtesy of Drafthouse Films)
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So long as there exists a moderately-wealthy middle class in Europe, then European arthouse directors—from Federico Fellini up through to Michael Haneke—will always have a punching bag to pick on in their long tradition of depicting the sickened soul of Europe. "Quo vadis, Europa?" asked an intertitle from Jean Luc-Godard's Film Socialisme, one of the most recent works from one of the standard-bearers of this tradition. Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam's latest, Borgman, is a black comedy take on the ailing heart of the Continent. It borrows from its contemporaries Haneke and Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth in its heavily mannered yet absurdist scenario of the downfall of a rich family at the hands of mysterious forces.

Borgman opens with a thrill when shaggy men who live in underground nests in the forest are smoked out and chased after by a hunting party of mercenaries and a shotgun-wielding priest. One of these men, who we later discover to be the titular Borgman (Jan Bijvoet), takes refuge in the quiet, bucolic petit bourgeois home of the van Schendels whose matriarch (Hadewych Minis) finds sympathy in the downtrodden man. Reasonably wealthy but apparently dead inside, the house itself resembles a giant concrete sarcophagus.

The arrival of Borgman and the rest of his cadres begins to unravel the van Schendel family. Motivated for no other reason other than fulfilling the film's need of pitting individuals who are literally underfoot against the privileged elites, Borgman is steeped far too heavily in allegory at times. A few victims, who had the misfortune of simply being in the way, suffer the ultimate indignity of having their bodies disposed of in a pond, upended with their heads—instead of their feet—encased in concrete. However, Borgman allows itself to be less suffocating than Haneke's work, depicting its meticulously planned, Mouse Trap-like murders in a blackly comic manner. At its highs, Borgman becomes a bizarre, realist cinematic representation of an Edward Gorey drawing. Just don't mind its silly politics.

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Borgman opens today at the Nuart Theatre in West L.A.