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Alex van Varmerdam • Director

“The pleasure comes from inventing it all”


- In competition for the first time in Cannes, the Dutch filmmaker gives a few cryptic leads for understanding his intriguing Borgman

Alex van Varmerdam • Director

Surrounded by his actors Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis and Jeroen Perceval, and his brother and producer Marc, Dutch director Alex van Varmerdam delivered drop-by-drop to the international press a few leads for deciphering Borgman [+see also:
film review
interview: Alex van Varmerdam
interview: Reinout Scholten van Aschat
film profile
, unveiled in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

What was the starting-point for the film’s idea?
Alex van Varmerdam: At a time in my life, I read analyses and critiques of the work of the Marquis de Sade. There are many things hidden away in our minds and, from time to time, we dig in and find ideas. That’s how the idea of the movie came about. In general, I do not start with a synopsis. I start with the first scene and the one you see in the film is exactly what I had written. Then Camiel rings the doorbell of the first house and at that stage, I did not know how I was going to advance. Fom then on, the pleasure comes from inventing it all. The screenplay emerged that way, one thing leading to another. In the end, it was longer than the film and we cut a few funny scenes to make it more powerful.

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What is the message behind the film? Is it a social analysis of the empty lives of the rich?
I always try not to give a specific meaning to my films, so that spectators can be free to find their own interpretations. At one point, the character Marina, who is very disturbed, says: “We are so lucky and fortunate people have to pay at some point in life”. It may be a sort of critique of our western society with people like Camiel who come to punish us for our happiness. But it was not my intention. The dialogue just sounded right. It is a simple suggestion, it doesn't go beyond that.

Is Borgman a kind of celebration of the forces of evil?
I wanted to show evil, not through bizarre or weird people, but with normal people, whom you could meet at the supermarket. But the characters are maybe half-angels, half-demons. There are clues in the film, but it might be better for spectators who see them to then forget them.

The site plays an important role in the film. The forest gives a very 19th-century tone, but the house is very modern. Why did you juxtapose these two elements?
There are always forests in my films. As for the house, I visualise the staging straight away when I write, the place where the door is located, the windows. And I always want to respect the set I have imagined, if not I tend to get lost. I like to create the set according to my imagination, but I want things to remain as I imagine them at the start.

Have you innovated in any way with this film?
It’s the first film in which I move the camera around. I usually like the camera to move when something moves in the image: the camera follows it. Many directors find that stupid and say you can move the camera even if nothing's moving in the scene. But I can't do it, it goes against my most intimate beliefs. At first, when Borgman is hidden in this hole, underground, for the first time in my life, the camera moves without a reason, coming closer to his face. In other movies, when I wanted to zoom in, I thought it was too tacky. But this time, I liked it.

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