Fantastic Fest Review: Ali Abbasi's Strange & Beautiful Fantasy 'Border'
by Jeremy Kirk
October 15, 2018
The concept of strange love and finding the one person in the world meant for only you is a strong one when it comes to cinematic storytelling. These films are often tough to recommend outright, the weirder nature of some of the entries in this category being a little too outside the box for most mainstream moviegoers. For the cinephile, however, the results of these films are often magical. So, too, is the case with the Swedish film, Border (aka Gräns), a film that tells a story that is, you guessed it, full of strange, creative wonder and eye-opening reveals about our world. Co-written and directed by Ali Abbasi, Border is a film that not everyone will be able to wrap their expectations around, but one that comes with undeniable results for those who do.
Abbasi's Border is also a film with such an inventive and original concept that the better left unsaid about it, the better. What can be revealed about the general story is that it centers on a woman, Tina, played with transformative strength by Eva Melander, who works for the Swedish border control agency. Tina has a rare skill. She is able to very literally sniff out any guilt or shame from those crossing the border, a skill that comes in handy when it comes to pointing out any contraband that might be coming across the border.
This skill is not the only aspect that sets Tina apart from her co-workers. She has a "strange" appearance, almost primitive in nature, an aspect she attributes to having a missing chromosome. When a strange man, played by Eero Milonoff, with similar features is arrested at the border, Tina's life is opened to whole new possibilities about her place in the world, and, then, things take an even stronger turn towards the unusual.
Based on a short story by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the same man who wrote Let the Right One In and who also serves as co-writer on this script, Border is a film that very early on announces its place in the category of "something you've never seen before." The everyday life of its protagonist aside, Tina's life is one unlike anything we've seen put to film before, the odd twists and turns that result from her new acquaintance allowing the film to blossom into something truly unique. Lindqvist's skill with character-building is well on display here, and the resulting connections in Tina's life as well as the strange, new direction it's about to take drive the film into that "magical" category I previously mentioned.
Likewise, Abbasi brings to Lindqvist's screenplay a rather magical form of beauty in his direction. Gorgeous cinematography creates the landscape in which Tina and this new stranger who has come into her life find themselves. It never overwhelms the personal narrative at the film's core, however. Instead, Abbasi's talent for eye-catching beauty dots the entirety of the film with breathtaking and off-kilter scenery, a tremendous aid in the overall concept of the oddities in this world.
In addition, Abbasi's skill with actors is also on display, chiefly when it comes to Melander's performance. It's unarguably one of the best performances of the year, the actress able to push through the heavy, facial prosthetics required of her character in order to illuminate the pained, otherworldly performance she is delivering. It's the type of performance that would be a shoe-in for major awards consideration if the awards in question recognized this kind of bizarre filmmaking. Here's hoping, when it comes time for reflection on the cinema of the year, Melander won't be forgotten amidst what is sure to be divisive audience.
Divisive, Border is sure to be, particularly when it comes to casual moviegoers looking for the typical A to B to C type of filmmaking found throughout most cineplexes nationwide. Border is every bit as beautiful and stunning as cinematic storytelling can be, a story full of hope but one that doesn't disregard the dangers and horrors of being different. With an absolute stunner of a performance at its center, Border is the kind of film lovers of cinema will want to seek out, a fairy tale of a picture in which the fantasy comes from within and spreads out into the world. In a nutshell, it is without question one of the best films of the year.
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