Border (2018)

One of the European discoveries of 2018, Ali Abbasi’s second feature is assured filmmaking that is fascinating and unsettling in equal measure.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Ali Abbasi
2018 | Sweden/Denmark | Drama/Mystery/Romance | 110 mins | 2.35: 1 | Swedish
M18 (passed clean) for some sexual content, graphic nudity, a bloody violent image, and language

Cast: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jörgen Thorsson
Plot: 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.
Awards: Won Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes).  Nom. for Best Makeup & Hairstyling (Oscars)
International Sales: Films Boutique
Singapore Distributor: Anticipate Pictures

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Dark/Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Review #1,687

(Reviewed at Singapore Film Society screening)

Spoilers: No

Iranian writer-director Ali Abbasi, who studied in both Sweden and Denmark, and is based in the continent, has made one of the European discoveries of 2018.  Border, as it is called, is only Abbasi’s second feature, but it has since garnered serious critical attention after its Cannes Un Certain Regard Award win.

It was also Sweden’s official submission to the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, where it unexpectedly landed a nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, despite not making the final cut in the former category.

That being said, Border is a must-see, with Abbasi showing strong control over his craft and story.  This is assured filmmaking by a director-to-watch, and should please world cinema fans who prefer their meal to be challenging, fascinating and disturbing.

Border chronicles the mundane life of a customs officer, Tina, who has a knack for smelling fear on others.  One fine day, her life changes when she encounters a strange traveller during working hours.

“Humans are parasites that use everything on earth for their own amusement. Even their own offspring. The entire human race is a disease, I’m telling you.”

What appears to be quite a straightforward if somewhat mysterious logline becomes something else altogether in this beautiful if unsettling film that also gives us one of the finest performances of 2018.  Eva Melander, who plays Tina in heavy, ‘unattractive’ makeup, delivers a potent acting masterclass where she channels her character in a raw, naturalistic way that gives the film a rare, primal energy.

She is backed by Eero Milonoff (who was recently in 2016’s The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki, coincidentally also a Cannes Un Certain Regard Award winner), who plays Vore, the aforesaid traveller.

Border works as a drama about everyday realities and the boredom of existence—to go to work, to eat and to sleep.  Perhaps even the people who are passing by the customs from one border to the next are like that, nary a meaningful conversation with another human being.

But without me also saying anything too revelatory, the film evokes a sense of Nordic mythology with Abbasi cleverly and unobtrusively imbuing the work with magical realism.  The result is a picture that builds on its mystery and tension without in any way copping out.

Based on a short story by co-writer John Ajvide Lindqvist of Let the Right One In (2008) fame, Border mostly eschews standard mystery-thriller genre conventions for a more tenuous, hybridised approach, though it is more or less a fairly accessible work storytelling-wise, despite the dark subject matter.

Grade: A-



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