Recommendation: An unusual yet sincere fairy tale set in modern Sweden. Beautiful, languorous, and sometimes haunting, it delivers a rewarding viewing experience. 7.5/10.
IMDB Synopsis: A customs officer who can smell fear develops an unusual attraction to a strange traveler while aiding a police investigation which will call into question her entire existence.
Border is an odd film. Set in modern day Sweden, the film draws heavily on Norwegian fantasy lore, blending the fantastical with mundane, weaving a curious story around its peculiar protagonist Tina (Eva Melander). Despite being physically deformed—as believed due to a chromosome deformity—Tina has found her calling as a border agent, catching would-be smuggles who otherwise evade the customs agents at a port. But she encounters a mysterious man similar to her who throws her entire existence into question.
With sparse exposition and an intimate camera, Border reveals Tina as an ostracized customs agent who is nonetheless respected—or at the very least tolerated. Despite working within societal norms, it’s clear that she’s more comfortable in her rural home with a forest and river in her backyard, exhibiting more comfort with animals than her roommate or coworkers. Despite her lack of social graces, she’s recruited by the police to ferret out a child pornography ring, due to her innate abilities. At the same time an enigmatic stranger, Vore (Eero Milonoff), passes through her checkpoint who sports the same physical features and animalistic nature as her. What follows is a languorous yet charged relationship that opens Tina’s eyes to who she really is, and the betrayal she’s endured her entire life.
It’s not too revealing to say the duo hail from a common trop of Nordic lore. Fear of lightning, ability to smell fear, love of animals (and eating maggots) are all well worn, but despite the expected, the relationship still radiates as it grows. But while Tina is learning about Vore, herself, and her past, the police investigation she’s working is coming to a head. It’s clear that the two things in Tina’s life are not coincidental, but rather inextricably linked. And if the first three-quarters of Border slowly weave this web, then the last act is a series of crescendos (some plotty, some emotional) that will shake Tina to her core.
Overall, the genre-bending drama is a little light on thriller aspects, but heavy on drama. Mostly effective, the odd, sometimes creepy, and heartening fantasy tale is another in a long time of Swedish films that take the mundane and twist just enough.
Highlights: The hair and makeup (it’s Oscar nominated!). The camerawork is exceptionally fastidious and economical. Tina’s house could really use a trip to IKEA.
MVP: Eva Melander as an intuitive, introverted, and beautiful soul. Her performance is heartbreaking and hopeful.
Director: Ali Abbasi
Studio: Neon // Release date: January 6, 2019