Over black, Borgman begins with a quote, “and they descended upon the earth to strengthen their ranks.” Prompting us to question, who is this “they,” and what do “they” want? No time to answer, we are thrown into the hunt, a barking dog is let out of it’s cage, lead by two farmers and a priest who head into the woods brandishing shotguns and pikes. Below, a ragged unkempt homeless man wakes in his subterranean lair. He hears the approaching hunters and flees. Above, the hunters hack away at the ground, caving in a canvas of brush to reveal an underground fortress. The conflict in this scene is never explained, but it sets up a visual context of Above vs. Below as the homeless man escapes into an upper class neighborhood searching for a place to wash himself.
Denied at every door, the man turns to trickier means and explains to one resident that the resident’s wife had nursed him back to health before. When the resident asks his wife if this is true, she tells him no, and an ensuing argument causes the resident to attack the homeless man in front of his wife. Here, all of the ingredients of the plot are thrown together to thicken as the wife takes pity on the homeless man and secretly nurses him back to health. A tiny crack in the relationship of this upper class marriage soon grows to a great divide; with the homeless man serving as an extension of the wife’s true feelings about her wealthy life and highlighting her realization in moments of quiet violence.
Borgman isn’t concerned with explaining the reality of its world. Instead, it finds its power and rhythm in the repetitive uncanny action. It is with the more obscure and uncomfortable frames that Alex Van Warmerdam really makes the story resonate. Heads cemented into buckets and thrown underwater to float upside down at the bottom of a reservoir, a child’s innocent face just before she drops a concrete block onto an unsuspecting gardener. Tattoo’s given in secret in the dead of night, later found for the first time in confusion. The constant evocative scenes continuously question our evaluation the character’s roles as they relate to being good or evil. The lack of any true motive, allows us to read how we assign morality to the class divide. Who is Above? Who is Below? Who among us welcomes the world into our life and who among us fights to keep it out?
Borgman is a thrilling and haunting look into the private lives of those in wealth and prosperity, as well as the residual emotions that get pushed down and ignored, only to manifest themselves as a hound rearing it’s heavy head on it’s prey. Headed by veteran Norwegian director Alex Van Warmerdam and starring Jan Bijvoet and Hadewych Minis opposite one another in two powerful roles. Borgman is an essential viewing to be added to the annals of your filmic experience; now available for streaming on Amazon Prime.