Border and the Rules of Attraction
How would you imagine the female lead in a modern-day Swedish film? Whatever your answer, Border, from Iranian-born, Denmark-based director Ali Abassi will likely surprise you. Tina, played under an impressive load of prosthetics by Eva Melander, is a customs officer at a small port on the Swedish coast. Lurching, awkward, with a Neanderthal brow, puffy cheeks, a blunt nose and sharp snaggle teeth, she’s startlingly ugly – but endowed with the useful ability to literally sniff out contraband or any other illegal material being smuggled into Sweden. Her twitching nostrils, she tells her boss, can detect “shame, guilt and rage”.
Border is adapted from a short story by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the book that would inspire the unforgettably left-field vampire tale Let the Right One In. Like that film, it has a sympathetically-viewed outsider whose very appearance puts her at odds with conventional society. The film fits into a long tradition of outlier-friendly movies, stretching back to Tod Browning’s classic 1932 horror-movie Freaks. You could also include in this list The Elephant Man (1980), The Brother from Another Planet , Bad Boy Bubby (1993), the 2013 sci-fi chiller Under the Skin and, of course, the multiple versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
But Border is perhaps stranger than any of these, more so than Let the Right One In. As the film's plot develops, it expands to encompass crime drama, romance, sexuality, absurdist humour and the darker realms of Nordic folklore. The moment it launches off into fantasy comes when an individual of equally outlandish aspect called Vore (played by Eero Milanoff, also generously plastered with prosthetics) shows up at Tina’s customs desk, causing her to react with a confusion that comes close to alarm. That these two have something very strange in common is evident; just what that affinity is – well, it would be a shame to give it away.
It’s the lumbering, growling, yet strangely touching, courtship dance between Tina and Vore – and the resultant bemusement of Tina’s dull, dog-obsessed live-in boyfriend Roland – that furnishes the heart of the film. Abassi matches his subject-matter with a dour, sombre visual palette that leaches the colour out of his characters’ surroundings; Tina seems most at ease at night in the woods, communing with foxes or elks. The border that most affects her, it seems, isn’t the one that she patrols for her work, but the one that separates her from most of the human race.
[Words by Philip Kemp]
Sweden’s entry for the Oscars and from the writer of Let the Right One In, Border is a film like no other. Tina (Eva Melander) is a border guard who has the ability to smell human emotions and catch smugglers.
When she comes across a mysterious man with a smell that confounds her detection, she is forced to confront hugely disturbing insights about herself and humankind. It's a twisted tale of real love and discovery.
Border plays on our screens from Friday 8 March