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Charming and mysterious, Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) seems almost otherworldly and it isn't long before he has a wife, children, and nanny under his spell in a calculated bid to take over their home life. However, his domestic assimilation takes a malevolent turn as his ultimate plan comes to bear, igniting a series of increasingly maddening and menacing events. (From Drafthouse’s official synopsis)

 Borgman
Dutch writer, director, and actor Alex van Warmerdam makes patently unusual films that gleefully push sensitive buttons without completely alienating a delicate audience. These films are often based around troops of impossibly quirky characters that act in impossibly quirky ways. People are defined by their career choices (he seems to be obsessed with the ‘work’ part of the ‘working class’), class distinctions, and, quite often, character flaws that serve his affection for cruel jokes. Movies like The Northerners and The Last Days of Emma Blank aren’t plot-driven and the narrative structure tends to favour interactions over story events. Also, in my limited understanding of his work, he seems to have a sly habit of changing his audience’s interpretation of his characters, rather than the characters themselves. Borgman fulfills most of the important distinctions of an Alex van Warmerdam film, including impossibly quirky characters, suburban lifestyles, expansive class distinctions, complex (often unusual and/or grotesque) sexual relationships, and manufactured family units. It’s also darkly comedic, unravels in a somewhat frustratingly episodic fashion, and is inexplicably moving, despite emotionally sadistic moments.

Borgman opens with one of the more weirdly suspenseful scenes I’ve ever seen. Without any setup, we witness three men, one of whom is a priest, descend on Camiel’s underground lair with rifles drawn. They proceed to stab through the dirt and leaves into the lair, impaling a carton of eggs and narrowly missing Camiel. He escapes into catacombs, back onto land, and runs to other underground hovels to warn his cohorts of the attack. It’s all so matter of fact and exciting in spite of itself and, as the film proceeds, it’s clear that Van Warmerdam isn’t interested in filling in the plot points with traditional exposition (the opening sequence is never explained). It’s up to us to figure it out for ourselves. Yet, even as the straight-faced surrealism persists, the film’s tone isn’t discouraging. The narrative unravels smoothly and long, quiet, contemplative after long, quiet, contemplative scene flows by without ever turning boring. The confusion is delicious, instead of frustrating. Eventually, Borgman reveals itself as a sort of dark fairytale. Camiel, who begins to exhibit vaguely supernatural abilities, and his criminal cohorts unveil a convoluted and opaque plan to…well, that would be a spoiler. Like Van Warmerdam’s other films (again, the ones I’ve seen) the comedy is dark and deadpan. Even the acts of violence that are played for laughs are committed in impassive ways.

 Borgman

Video


Borgman was shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras (I believe Van Warmerdam’s last three or four movies were shot digitally) and is presented here in 2.35:1, 1080p video. Van Warmerdam and cinematographer Tom Erisman shot most of the movie in soft light with the middle ground in near-constant focus. This means there aren’t many super-fine foreground textures or super-dynamic background elements, but the basic complexity of its patterns and elemental separations remain consistent. The sequences that are shot in harsher sunlight feature vivid natural colours and wonderfully delicate hue transitions, while the shaded interiors and night shots are more desaturated and smoothed-over. The transfer isn’t perfect and most of the minor issues (and I mean minor) are ones that have followed other Drafthouse/Cinedigm releases, namely semi-weak, grayed-out black levels and some banding effects along the smoothest edges. These, along with ever-so-slight edge haloes, are all common in digitally-shot releases. I assume there's room for improvement with the contrast levels, but I didn’t see the film in theaters, so assumptions are all I have.

 Borgman

Audio


Borgman’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Dutch soundtrack is limited only by the fact that it’s a quiet film. Blank space and silence play a bigger role than multi-channel bombast or even ambient effects. A few aural highlights include the opening attack on Borgman’s underground lair, breeze during outdoor sequences, driving scenes, a couple of particularly loud landscaping scenes that includes heavy machinery, and a booming thunderstorm at the end of the film. Dialogue is clear and consistent, though there are a handful of instances where it awkwardly wanders into the stereo channels to create a sense of movement. Vincent van Warmerdam, who has worked on a number of his brother’s films, including The Northerners and Ober, provides a limited instrumental score that only crops up a few times. I get the feeling that there wasn’t going to be any score at all – just two sequences where music is played by on-camera sources, given how sparingly it is used. The music is warm and gives the surround channels something more to do.

The only subtitle option on my screener disc was an SDH option, which included descriptive titles and subs for all the English dialogue. This wasn’t a total mood killer, but was definitely a little annoying.

 Borgman

Extras


The only extras are a collection of deleted/extended scenes (6:10, HD), a trailer, and trailers for other Drafthouse releases.

Overall


Borgman is a surreal and challenging film without any tangible conventional appeal that I believe will actually appeal to mainstream audiences. It’s just a smoothly told story and effortless viewer experience. I recommend it only with the warning that it is strange. Drafthouse’s Blu-ray disc features a very good digital transfer and a mostly soft DTS-HD MA soundtrack that is very true to the material, but only a handful of deleted scenes in terms of extras (which is only disappointing, because the last Drafthouse release I saw was their loaded Act of Killing collection).

 Borgman
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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