Director: Ali Abbasi
Starring: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff
Having seen a trailer for this film, I went into Border thinking I had a general idea as to what it was about; coming out, I realized just how little I knew about anything at all. This film is subversion of a high order, one that grasps a fantastical element that disposable writers would mock or push to the side and uses it to the full extent of its power. I thought this would be simply an independent film about the way we perceive those of an external minority, and a romance about overcoming a certain physical awkwardness. Not everything in Border makes absolute sense, but its otherworldly sensibilities are enticing nonetheless.
Tina, played by Eva Melander, is a border patrol security guard with two distinct qualities—her looks, which most would define as simply “ugly” before catching themselves and saying “deformed,” and her sense of smell. She can not only smell the contents of the hundreds of people passing her by every day, but the fear they have in the secrets they hold. While she becomes entangled in the unraveling of a disgusting conspiracy, she meets Vore, who, even if he didn’t have the same deformities as Tina, she would find herself strangely drawn to nonetheless. Thus sparks one of the least conventional romances I’ve ever seen onscreen.
This film has a lot going for it; in regards to world-building, the combination between fantasy elements and genuine realism, the proper development of interesting characters, and the feeling of distress of the choices made in the latter half are all welcome and present. Its set exclusively in Sweden but its scope is bigger than it leads on as we learn there are others like Vore and Tina, living their lives in the undercurrents of human existence. Both the primary couple have monologues about the difficulties of their upbringings, which are heartfelt, and for some, all too relatable. Despite having many elements and cultural roots in fantasy, there’s no magic or pixie dust or anything beyond our suspension of belief. It’s a story that could occur right down the street from your house. Tina, despite what anyone in the film says, is a very human woman whose inner conflict is something we all have gone through.
Some of its quality is, however, spoiled by the film’s final act. Not all the gaps in the story are airtight, not all unanswered questions are out an artistic or philosophical curiosity, but out of simply filling the voids left by the screenplay. And its easy to feel that director Ali Abbasi’s reach to a certain degree was exceeding its grasp.
The film contains an excess of nudity, sexual content, and a tonal darkness that many audiences may be uncomfortable with. But if you’re a fan of magic realism, or anything that takes the whimsical and puts it in our dark bleak world, then I’d certainly recommend that you see Border. Just don’t bring your kids.