Ali Abbasi / Sweden / 2018 / 108 mins
Part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2019
Tina (Eva Melander) works as a border security officer at a Swedish ferry port. She’s exceptionally good at her job, being able to literally smell out those trying to smuggle contraband. Tina’s strange abilities unfortunately come with a high cost. She was born with strikingly odd looks, along with other issues with her body resulting from some form of “chromosomal flaw”. As a result, she lives a somewhat passive life, happy only when walking barefoot around the forests near her home… until a strange chance meeting with Vore (Eero Milonoff), a similar looking person who she is instantly and insatiably drawn towards. Through their friendship, she begins to learn that there’s more to both of them, and the magic of the world.
Border is a curious musing on identity, gender, culture and morality based on a short story by John Ajvide Lindqvist, better known as the writer of Let the Right One In. Both tales are grounded in the real world, but incorporate fantastical and mythological elements. There are also some definite thematic parallels that can be drawn between the two stories; particularly relating to how human morality and culture would be viewed by outside eyes. At the same time, the story could be similarly viewed as an allegory for schisms pertaining to ethnic or cultural assimilation, what with Tina’s need to be accepted for who she is clashing strongly with Vore’s adherence to tradition.
There’s a lot going on under the surface of the film, but it also looks brilliant as well. The filmmakers have done incredible job with prosthetic and makeup, giving Melander and Milonoff a realistically uncanny look that still feels believable, particularly considering how much full body nudity is in the film. Similarly, the actors do sterling work in embellishing their characters with clumsy awkward movements and slightly staggered speech. The bestiality of both characters never feels less than authentic, especially when they are literally naked in the woods or pleasantly interacting with animals. The entire film is shot with a frank appreciation of the natural world, accentuating its ragged beauty and contrasting it with the stifling, constrictive banality of human cities.
While these aspects of the film are incredible, the secondary narratives feel a little jarring. The B-plot, about Tina helping the police with an investigation into a paedophile ring, never quite feels like it gels with the rest of the story; despite it actually tying in thematically and narratively, the editing just feels abrupt and dissonant in a way that hampers the flow. Similarly, the ending has a choppy feel to it, as the story scrabbles together final moments that deliver in a satisfying but messy fashion, which is a slight disappointment after such a magical and thought-provoking film for the rest of the runtime.