Devilish Dutch drama 'Borgman' debuts at Cannes

AP News
Posted: May 19, 2013 9:12 AM
Devilish Dutch drama 'Borgman' debuts at Cannes

CANNES, France (AP) — There's something nasty lurking in the woods — and inside the characters' heads — in darkly comic Cannes Film Festival entry "Borgman."

In Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam's supernaturally-tinged psychological drama, a mysterious interloper emerges from a forest and knocks on the door of a wealthy family's modernist mansion.

Borgman, the titular stranger played by Flemish actor Jan Bijvoet, insinuates himself into the outwardly idyllic life of the clan, which quickly begins to implode.

Van Warmerdam established a distinctive vein of macabre humor in previous films including the fairy tale-inspired "Grimm" and acerbic old-age portrait "The Last Days of Emma Blank." But the mix of deadpan comedy and growing menace in "Borgman" takes it into even darker territory.

"I'm a little disappointed about how nasty this film became," the 60-year-old director told reporters Sunday.

"I think is has something to do with the fact that I'm getting old," he said. "Some people are getting milder when they get older, but I feel I get more and more nasty."

"Borgman," one of 20 films competing for the Palme d'Or, is The Netherlands' first Cannes contender in 38 years, though van Warmerdam's 1998 film "Little Tony" played in the festival's sidebar competition, Un Certain Regard.

The film's first audience greeted it Sunday with applause — the Hollywood Reporter called it "engrossing and original" — but with some puzzlement, too. Is Borgman the devil? Is he a force of nature, wreaking revenge on an affluent, complacent Western society? Or is he the demon that lurks within us all?

"I can't explain," the director, who also wrote the script and appears in the film as one of Borgman's accomplices, said. "I know nothing more than you."

He said the script had its origins in an idea he came across while reading about the Marquis de Sade: "that your mind is much bigger than you think, and that here are a lot of rooms you've never been (in) before where there are awful or creepy or nasty things to find."

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"Borgman" combines elements of medieval supernatural stories — one scene has villagers and a priest hunting the evil spirits in a deep, dark forest — with a low-key modern approach. Borgman is an ordinary, modern figure who keeps in touch with his cohorts by mobile phone.

"I like to show what you call the evil — or the bad or whatever you want to call it — as very normal people," van Warmerdam said. "Not creepy people, not weird walking zombies, but just very normal people you can meet at the supermarket around the corner."

And the director said the use of cell phones is a major innovation in his filmmaking.

"I remember in my first movie I had a dogma — no cigarettes, no telephones and no trees.

"I hate acting through the phone," he added. "Now on purpose I give them cellphones. Because I hate them I made myself love them."


Jill Lawless can be reached at