By Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.
Born and raised in New Zealand, filmmaker Daniel Joseph Borgman has traveled from one of the most southernmost cities at the bottom of the planet to its near-opposite end, establishing his career as one of the more fascinating immigrants working in Denmark’s thriving film industry. Having studied at the Danish alternative film school Super16, Borgman’s background renders him a notable fit amongst the school’s significant other international director alumni, such as Danish-Iraqi director Fenar Ahmad, Brazilian Carlos Augusto de Oliveira, and Faroese Heiðrik á Heygum, the latter now based in Iceland.
On the back of his feature debut, the New Zealand-set Danish co-production The Weight of Elephants in 2013, Borgman’s sophomore feature Loving Pia from 2017 was set in Denmark, as was his latest film Resin which made its world premiere in the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival’s Contemporary World Cinema strand. In many ways Resin combines on a superficial level at least some of the key elements of these previous two features. On one hand it shares with The Weight of Elephants a central focus on the experiences of a young child in a period of extreme transition whose story is marked by the mysterious disappearance of children. At the same time, while a fictional film, Loving Pia is both based on and stars a real woman – Pia Skovgaard – a 60-year-old woman who lives with an intellectual disability whose life is changed when she makes a tentative romantic connection. Although lacking the real-world foundations of Loving Pia, Resin too concerns how change can impact the lives of those on the borders of a given society.
Yet like his two previous features, Resin finds Borgman working in wholly unique territory in terms of tone and style. Shifting towards almost folkloric terrain, Resin recalls half-remembered childhood fairy tales about missing children, houses on the outskirts of town, plucky young heroines with impressive archery skills, and fair maidens trapped in castles by evil princes. As the film progresses, however, the reality kicks in and the promise of something more ethereal slips rapidly through our fingers; the fair maiden is Maria (The Killing star Sofie Gråbøl), a bedridden, morbidly obese pregnant woman literally unable to move. Her confinement is less the result of an evil prince than the actions of her severely mentally ill husband Jens (Peter Palauborg), who lives in such fear and hatred of the outside world that he is incapable of getting her the help she so desperately needs.
Stuck in the middle of this is the film’s young heroine Liv (Vivelill Søgaard Holm), who revels in her life in the wilderness on the isolated island where she and her family live. Considered hermits to those who live in the nearby town, Liv at first seems to know no other way of life. She loves her Maria dearly, and Jens is not merely a father figure but her primary educator and sole playmate. The falling down, ramshackle house they call home does not strike her as particularly unusual, nor does Jens’s forceful insistence that she hide whenever the dreaded mailman arrives. Her knowledge of the flora and fauna provide the basis of the world as she knows it, and her impressive skills as a hunter and her distrust of outsiders are a direct result of Jens’s mentorship, although as the film progresses the latter becomes increasingly destabilized as she embarks on frequent unauthorized trips at night, drawn to one location – and one woman – in particular.
Intuitively unconvinced of Jens’s rejection of the world outside, the “resin” of the film’s title speaks both of a world frozen in time in a larger sense, and something far more macabre that Liv – despite her lack of experience and knowledge of the world at large – recognizes on some level as a sign that her supposedly idyllic life is not as perfect as Jens and Maria have led her to believe. Offering all the magic and wonder of the fairy tale idealism of living off the grid on a tantalizing platter, Resin powerfully reveals instead a tragic reality where people in need simply fall through the cracks, and children are forced to suffer the harshest consequences.
Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a film critic from Melbourne, Australia, who has written five books on cult, horror and exploitation film including Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study (McFarland, 2011), Found Footage Horror Films: Fear and the Appearance of Reality (McFarland, 2015), and the single-film focused monographs Suspiria (Auteur, 2016), Ms. 45 (Columbia University Press, 2017) and The Hitcher (Arrow Books, 2018). She is the co-editor, with Dean Brandum, of ReFocus: the Films of Elaine May (Edinburgh University Press, 2019).