Tuesday 5 March 2019

Border (Sweden/Denmark 2018: Dir Ali Abassi)

While this website generally has a 'no spoiler' policy for recent films, the only way to write about Ali Abassi's extraordinary Border is to disclose some plot points. So I would strongly advise you to see the movie before reading this, as the less you know the more you're likely to get out of it.

Border introduces us to Tina (an extraordinary performance by Eva Melander, but by no means the only impressive one in the film), a customs officer with an advanced sense of smell. It's so advanced she can smell guilt, making her job an obvious career choice for a woman whose abilities encompass more than identifying contraband; in an early scene she stops a passing businessman, and, although a check of his bags reveals nothing, a request to provide the SD card from his camera has him vainly attempting to swallow it - the card contains images of child pornography; Tina has picked up on his shame. What is this gift? She has been told when growing up that it's a by-product of a chromosomal disorder that has also given her some rather unusual features, which causes her to be the object of attention and sometimes scorn.

One day Tina apprehends a passing traveller, Vore (Eero Milonoff), and is stunned to see that he shares her unusual looks. He is detained and strip searched, only for the officer responsible to confirm that he is without male genitalia. But Tina and Vore spark immediately, although Tina remains suspicious - her nature tells her to trust her senses that he's hiding something. But the pair, in finding each other, discover a connection that Tina did not think possible; whereas Tina has spent her life feeling 'other,' with Vore she feels complete. But Tina was right to trust her instincts, for Vore is about to reveal the truth about Tina's origins, and has his own dark secret to reveal too.

Border is not an easy film to like. It's about the most extreme subversion of boy-meets-girl story that you could imagine, an essay on difference which, if nothing else, convinces that there's somebody for everyone out there. Based on a short story 'Gräns' by John Ajvide Lindqvist, he of Let the Right One In fame, Border shares the same myth/reality themes echoed in much of the author's work. The film's muted colour scheme and tightly shot, shadowy vistas are as claustrophobic as the prosthetic makeup worn by Melander and Milonoff (four hours a day in make up, apparently). Personally I could have done without this rather distracting detail; close up the effects become the focus, which I didn't want. There are also some subplots in the film which take you away from the main story rather than draw you in, and excessively extend the running time. But despite its odd themes, it's a refreshingly down to earth story - just not with...humans. It's tempting to read Border as a film about immigration rather than general 'otherness' but there's more going on in the narrative to allow for such easy categorisation.

But it's the chemistry between the 'odd couple' that makes the film strangely compelling; whether it's Vore feeding Tina a maggot (yep, that's right), or Tina, swimming in a lake and feeling free for the first time ever, supported by some stunning cinematography. It's Melander's film though (the original story was largely told from Tina's perspective, and this comes through in the storytelling), a breakthrough performance certainly, although in a role I can't see setting any copycat trends.

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