Occasionally, a film comes along that is so wildly original and strange that its hard to pinpoint or even describe it, especially without ruining the peculiar magic that could unfold to an unsuspecting viewer. Border is such a film. Ali Abassi’s Swedish cross-genre anomaly presents itself as a simple tale of finding one’s identity but blossoms into a cynical fantasy romance with a highly awkward sex scene to boot.
Abassi forces his viewers to confront ideas of beauty and acceptance through the eyes of Tina (Eva Melander), a customs officer with an unusual face and even more unusual gift. Her appearance is almost neanderthalic: a heavy-set protruding brow, puffy cheeks and an overbite mouth crowded with teeth. We see these teeth as her lips tremble and pull back into a snarl, sniffing at visitors that pass through her ‘anything to declare’ area in an animalistic display of caution.
Tina has an extraordinary sense of smell, she can smell guilt and fear on a person, therefore finding out who is carrying illegal or undeclared materials through the customs gate, despite how unsuspecting they might appear. After one particularly shocking customs discovery, Tina is enlisted to help the local police force uncover a paedophile ring and finds the work to be a welcome and righteous change to her mundane life.
While her life may be drowning in mundanity, her live-in boyfriend Roland existing as nothing more than baggage, it’s the small details that make Tina’s life so captivating. Her penchant for insects and natural ability to sense the presence of wildlife, the waddling walk that Melander gives her character, her quiet reflection and unsure half-smiles. Abassi’s focus on nature and Tina’s presence within it gives the film an inherently humanist quality to it, which is incredibly surprising given the film’s ending.
The ideas of identity and connection (or lack thereof), that plague Tina’s existence come to full realisation when she meets Vore (Eero Millnoff), a bedraggled beast of man that looks not too dissimilar to her in facial structure. She feels and instant connection and suspicion that her sense of smell can’t see through. The pair bond over insects and the strange similarities their bodies share; Tina finds him both alluring and utterly repugnant, the details of which roll out throughout the rest of the films bizarre and unpredictable fantasy plot.
Tina’s search for identity and eventual realisation of it through the vehicle of Vore is equally eerily beautiful and strange − at times even disgusting. Abassi derives wonderfully nuanced performances from his two leads who do a staggeringly good job under piles of prosthetic makeup, communicating both the awkwardness and surprise of love and connection, allowing Tina to find a new confidence and strength within her realised identity.
As a totally unique enigma, Border is not your sub-standard film. It is at times challenging and distancing to watch but portrays its story with an undeniable conviction. It tackles themes of Otherness and identity through the guise of a character on such an inconceivable level of marginality that we are forced to rethink our own ideas of what it means to be human.
Dir: Ali Abassi
Scr: John Ajvide Lindqvist, Ali Abassi, Isabella Eklöf
Cast: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jörgen Thorsson
Prd: Anna Croneman, Tomas Eskilsson, Thomas Gammeltoft, Peter Nyrén, Håkan Pettersson, Daniel Sachs, Meta Louise Foldager Sørensen, Louis Tisné, Erika Wasserman
DOP: Nadim Carlsen
Music: Christoffer Berg, Martin Dirkov
Run time: 110 minutes
Border is out on Blu-Ray and DVD on July 15th