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"Concrete Shoes Are So Last Season: In ‘Borgman,’ a Surreal Touch of Evil" - New York Times
04/06/2014
Author: MEKADO MURPHY
Borgman release in the US on June 6th 2014.

The term “sleep with the fishes” is given a surreal visual interpretation in the dark, haunting drama “Borgman.”

The tale, by the Dutch filmmaker Alex van Warmerdam, follows the title character (Jan Bijvoet), a vagrant who, after being shooed out of an underground lair where he has been living, manipulates his way into the home of an upper-middle-class family in the Netherlands. During his stay, tensions flare, eeriness escalates, and body counts rise. It’s a fable about the way sinister elements can creep into life in surprising ways.

“I wanted to do something with evil,” Mr. van Warmerdam said, speaking by phone from Amsterdam. “I wanted to do something with a gun, with a family, with someone under the ground. And I wanted to do some strangling in it.” Those loose ideas came together in his screenplay, which he then extensively storyboarded. He even created sketches and paintings to give his crew a better idea of the kind of images he wanted on screen.

Among the most striking sequences involve characters who get in the way of the cryptic but malevolent Borgman. They are murdered, their heads placed in buckets that are then filled with concrete. Their bodies are taken to a pond and dropped in, suspended upside down in perpetuity.

“When I was younger, I’d seen these Chicago gangster movies, and they always put their victims’ feet in the concrete,” Mr. van Warmerdam said. “But I thought I’d do it the other way around and put the face in the concrete, because it would take more time to identify the victims.”

In Mr. van Warmerdam’s watercolors of the scene, human bodies look like odd figurines in a giant aquarium, reflecting both the dreamlike comic nature of the moment as well as its coldness.

While the watercolors served a practical purpose in preproduction, they stem from Mr. van Warmerdam’s visual arts background. He had wanted to be a painter since he was 7 and went to art school. He eventually ended up in theater, painting stage sets before turning to filmmaking in the 1980s.

In translating his image to the screen, he had hoped to shoot in a pond or a river. But the water wasn’t clear enough for readable visuals. “In the end, it was done in an indoor swimming pool,” he said. “We made a set on the bottom.”

That set was partial and the missing elements, like fish and extra plants, were added digitally. In the film, the water is murkier than in the painting, and the visuals are more monochromatic, but the scene retains the same sense of strangeness.

“When you have an idea, it always develops during the production into something different,” Mr. van Warmerdam said. “But it’s familiar to the thing you had in mind. It’s like when you have a dream, the telling of the dream is different from the dream itself.”