Screens at CIFF: 10/12 & 10/21 & 10/23
World premiere: 19 May, 2013, Cannes International Film Festival

Writer-director Alex van Warmerdam's Borgman is, to start with, an irresistibly weird movie. It's also, I believe, an intensely angry movie, though the anger is a little bit hard to suss out underneath all the weirdness. It is about- and well, that's sort of already tricky. "About", in this case, is a very subjective matter, not in a thematic sense but at the very level of plot.

Still, we can at least tell what actually, physically happens, and maybe that's a place to start. After finishing his sermon, a priest (Pierre Bokma) heads out into the woods with a posse and an assault rifle, hunting for someone. This someone is a filthy, bearded man living in a small cavern - he'll adopt a couple of names but the one that seems likeliest to be correct is Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) - who manages to escape with just enough time to let two other men living in holes that the time has come to run.

Having thus eluded his pursuers, who will never show up again, Borgman starts to look for a place to clean up, and after a few false tries, he finds the home of Richard (Jeroen Perceval) and Marina (Hadewych Minis) and their three children; his attempts to con his way in earn him only a beating from Richard, but as he skulks around in the woods outside, Marina takes pity on him, and lets him take a bath and sleep in a shed on the property. It's unclear if she acts out of guilt for the way her husband treated the beggar, or because she's disgusted by her husband's brutal actions, and wants to do something she knows would make him upset; either way, he's in now, and the family will just have to deal with the fallout.

The fallout is wide-ranging and intense, and I would feel simply awful about giving away any of the turns made in a film that the vast majority of people reading this will have only a small chance of ever seeing. Let us say merely that Borgman, hiding for a time under the name Anton, is one of five beings who are probably not humans in the strict sense, and whose behavior over the several days following that bath is fixed on turning the cloistered, upper-class family into a shambling wreck. They represent evil, that much is clear, and depending on how seriously we take the film's opening title card, perhaps even a cosmic, specifically Christian notion of Evil, though that's not at all to say that Borgman turns into a home invasion thriller about warding off strange, Lynchian demons (comparing the film to Lynch is lazy as fuck, but the thing is so hellbent on deliberately leaving things unexplained, I'm not quite sure what else to do). It's rather more mystic in its lessons, I think: a parable about inviting evil in and making it comfortable, and what effect that has one your life thereafter.

And this is the point where we firmly enter the realm of supposition and theory, though I think that this much, at least, is unmistakably true: Borgman is a film that finds possibly literal demons to be weird charismatic and funny - the static, ironic acting by the four other individuals (Tom Dewispelaere, Eva van de Wijdeven, Annet Malherbe, and van Warmerdam himself) is curtly funny in a very dry way, and the film wrings surprisingly huge laughs from the repeated image of the invaders' underwater garden of dead bodies held in place by buckets of cement around the head - while saving all of its rage for the very human, everyday people like Richard who use wealth and privilege as a way to divide themselves from the rest of the world. The film hates Richard. He's framed to look puffy and hyper all the time, and he's given absurdly venal things to say almost constantly, shown using expensive presents to buy his way out of consequences, and generally being a snarling ass until he gets his way. The events that transpire throughout, whether we allow that Borgman and his cronies are demons or just very cunning everyday psychos, play rather overtly as "you reap what you sow" - put evil into the world, evil is given back.

It's not a subtle allegory, in other words. And not a hugely fresh one (there's a lot of Teorema here). But despite all the words I just spent on it, Borgman isn't at all a message film, however clearly it relishes depicting an attack on the rich and untouchable. No, this is almost entirely a movie about weird, unpredictable events being flung at the audience for almost two hours without pause, and keeping the viewer totally disoriented almost until the ending (which a lot of people have criticised as losing steam; personally, I have a hell of a time imagining anything better, and it certainly never loses its freakish edge of fresh confusion and horror around every corner). Characters appear just to be summarily offed, the plot jets off on lengthy tangents, and the only thing unifying the movie is the overarching sense that in the world, terrible things happen for reasons you can't understand, and without warning. A dour message, but one presented with enough warped humor that it's never bitter, and while this film is unabashedly limited in its appeal (and hard to predict, in any case, who'd find it appealing), the freewheeling sense of rule-breaking that governs every frame of it makes it one of the most thoroughly magnetic things I've seen in 2013.