Ali Abbassi’s Border (Gräns) is startlingly original, a magical fantasy (or is it?) that blends the real world with Nordic myth and folklore.
Skin Deepby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
In Border, Tina, with her clumsily put-together features, stringy hair and awkward, thick-set body (Eva Melander, under heavy prosthetics) is a customs officer with a strange ability. Sniffing with her broad, flat nose, she can literally smell when someone is lying. Though this gives her almost uncanny success in catching smugglers, outside work she’s a solitary social misfit. She shares an unkept house with a slacker partner (Jörgen Thorsson). It’s only when she walks barefoot in the forest communing with the natural world, when its animals are magically drawn to her, that she seems in her element.
Then everything changes for her when Vore (Eero Milonoff) arrives at the Swedish port off the ferry from Finland, carrying an incubator full of insect larvae in his luggage. He has the same misshapen features as her and, for the first time in her life, Tina sees someone who looks like her. Without knowing why, she finds herself drawn to him, as he is to her. As they get to know each other, he reveals that he knows more about her true self than she does and this stirs her into asking for more information from her elderly father (Sten Ljunggren). She finds that she and Vore have more in common than she could ever have suspected. And as these two ugly people – by conventional human standards – spend intimate time together in the woods and woodland pool, it takes on a surprisingly spiritual dimension. But then the real world reasserts its presence and the fairy tale grows darker.
Ali Abassi’s film is about crossing borders: concretely, the physical border between countries and imaginatively, the border between the everyday, human world and the invisible world of Nordic myth and folklore that surrounds it. Border makes you realise the possibilities of otherness that were right in front of you all the time that you just needed to open your eyes. It’s different from anything you may have seen before.
Border won the award for Best Film in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival 2018 and is released on 8 March 2019 in the UK.