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Borgman Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Borgman (2014) movie poster Borgman

US Theatrical Release: June 6, 2014 (Dutch: August 29, 2013) / Running Time: 114 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Writer/Director: Alex van Warmerdam

Cast: Jan Bijovet (Camiele Borgman), Hadewych Minis (Marina van Schendel), Jeroen Perceval (Ricahrd van Schendel), Sara Hjort Ditlevsen (Stine), Eva van de Wijdeven (Ilonka), Annet Malherbe (Brenda), Tom Dewispelaere (Pascal), Alex van Warmerdam (Ludwig), Elve Lijbaart (Isolde van Schendel), Dirkje van der Pijl (Rebecca van Schendel), Gene Bervoets (Gardener), Ariane Schluter (Gardener's Wife), Mike Weerts (Arthur Stornebrink), Pierre Bomka (Priest)

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The Dutch film Borgman is one of the most bizarre movies I have ever encountered. It probably will not soon be forgotten, but I wish it would be.

We open with a man being prompted out of his underground dwelling by a trio of hunters. Scrawny, scruffy, and fashioned like a man from an entirely different era,
Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet, a supporting player in last year's dreadful Belgian Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee The Broken Circle Breakdown) alerts two friends who have their own hidden hole in the ground homes and then makes his way to a suburban community. There, he goes door to door, asking if he can take a bath or shower. He's just a traveler in need of a wash, he says. But doors are shut in his face again and again.

Finally, Borgman pretends to know the matriarch of the family residing at one house, claiming she once nursed him. It's a lie, but it's one that irritates the man of the house, Richard van Schendel (Jeroen Perceval), enough to throw some forceful punches and kicks. Richard's wife, the one Borgman calls "Maria" who is really named Marina (Hadewych Minis) later notices the drifter in the wealthy family's nearby summer house. Taking pity, she indeed dresses his wounds, feeds him, and lets him take a bath, so long as he stays hidden from her husband.

Freshly escaped from his underground bunker, Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet), makes a simple yet off-putting request in the Dutch thriller "Borgman."

Within a few days and against Marina's wishes, Borgman takes off to "play." Turns out the creepy man's idea of fun is killing the van Schendels' gardener and his wife and, after a shave and a presentable haircut, posing as the most qualified applicant to fill the new vacancy. Richard doesn't recognize Borgman, who promises to make over the family's lawn quickly while staying in that summer house to maximize his work time.

Borgman makes a convincing gardener, but he and his four associates (a mother and daughter plus two men) are in a different field, one that sees them marking, drugging, poisoning, killing and creatively disposing. Borgman has a big plan to disrupt life for the van Schendels, their three young kids (whom he tells morbid bedtime stories), and their English-speaking nanny Stine (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen).

Marina (Hadewych Minis) has gone batty for Borgman. This daughter-mother duo (Eva van de Wijdeven, casting director Annet Malherbe) are part of Borgman's gardening crew of assassins.

The disturbing Borgman is one of the least pleasant and comprehensible films of this or any year. After premiering at Cannes in May 2013, the film opened in its native Netherlands last August.
It made the film festival circuit around Europe, Asia, North and South America for almost a year before receiving a limited North American release from Drafthouse Films last June in an engagement that started at two theaters and peaked at thirteen.

Written and directed by Alex van Warmerdam (who also plays one of the secondary "gardeners"), the film unsettles from start to finish, though not in a good way. It's cold, it's sick, it's violent. What it never is: compelling, suspenseful, accessible, or redeemable. Basically, weird things befall an affluent Dutch family at the hands of one skilled vagrant who wasn't shown compassion by the family's patriarch. Having directed films for almost thirty years, van Warmerdam is comfortable with the technical side of things: compositions, editing, etc. What he completely fails at, though, is giving us a reason to care about any of these characters, whose emotional gamuts never make sense or flow with any kind of logic.

To be certain, Borgman is different. That's probably the #1 reason why it boasts impressive critic approval ratings on the oversimplified Tomatometer. The critics' individual scores are far less distinguished. Most critics do not want to discredit a filmmaker who is trying something out of the ordinary. Think about it: anything shaking up the monotony of conventional filmic storytelling is cause for celebration among those who watch hundreds of movies each year. For me, "different" is not even close to being the same as "good." Borgman isn't a bad film because it's dark and disturbing. It's a bad film because it has no meaning, no regard for the viewer, and no apparent point to its creepy ideas.

The film reaches DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow from Drafthouse home video distributor Cinedigm, who equip each edition with a code for a downloadable digital copy. We review the Blu-ray here.

Borgman Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (Dutch with English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $29.93
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($24.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Borgman's Blu-ray presentation is problematic in a few ways, but the biggest concern is in its subtitles. They are of the burned-in variety and are in English SDH. SDH is shorthand for "Subtitled for the deaf and hearing impaired", which will not be music to the ears of anyone without hearing problems. Thus, the subtitles not only translate Dutch dialogue but also sound effects, like "[water running]", "[distant dog barking]", "[equipment buzzing loudly]", and, on a couple of puzzling occasions, "[speaking in Dutch]." That is not the way an English viewer should experience the film and yet it is the only way to do so here. It's shocking to encounter such a major and obvious blunder from Drafthouse Films and Cinedigm, two studios that import plenty of foreign films. Even translating the film's infrequent but easily understood English dialogue, the subtitles undoubtedly sour the presentation.

Other than that, the Blu-ray's transfer is adequate, but not exceptional. The 2.35:1 video is clean and detailed enough while preserving the film's earthy palette and the 5.1 DTS HD-MA does an okay job of distributing dialogue and the rare bit of score.

The change of heart of Danish nanny Stige (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen) towards her boyfriend is explained more clearly in deleted scenes. Borgman (Jan Bivjoet) enjoys a bath, a meal, and some television on the Blu-ray's top menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The all-HD on-disc bonus features begin with a handful of deleted scenes (6:08).

Almost all of them involve Danish nanny Stine (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen), who gets naked upon being medicated by a gardener who shows no interest in doing any more than that, and participates in the torture of her soldier boyfriend (Mike Weerts). Your guess is as good as mine as to why these moments were cut while others were left in.

Borgman's US theatrical trailer (2:13) is provided along with ones for The Act of Killing, A Field in England, Pieta, and Wrong.

The menu plays a scored screen-filling montage of mostly silent clips. The Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks or resume playback. Heck, it doesn't even resume playback if you go to the Top Menu looking for set up options that aren't there.

The disc is held in a clear keepcase that is the same dimensions of a standard blue case but lacks the instant identifiability. The keepcase's translucency enables the reverse side of the cover to display credits and additional artwork inside. Besides the digital copy insert, we find a Criterion-esque 28-page booklet. Illustrated with Borgman concept art, it contains a director's statement, interviews with Van Warmerdam and the two lead actors, and thoughts, sketches, and alternate posters from the US one-sheet designer Brandon Schaefer. The text provides some valuable illumination on the film, but not enough to make me reconsider my dismissal of it.

The now cleanly-shaven Borgman (Jan Bivjoet) treats the van Schendel family to an odd bit of backyard theatre.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Borgman is unusual enough to have excited many critics, but not this one. I have the ordinary movie lover's interests at heart when I say there is virtually nothing to enjoy about this ambiguous Dutch thriller. Though it may look sharp and appear to have some layers, the unpleasantness and aimlessness of this story are enough to wonder who could really appreciate something so utterly unappealing?

Cinedigm's Blu-ray includes a substantial booklet, but disappoints with foolish burned-in English SDH subtitles.

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Reviewed September 8, 2014.



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