Directed by: Ali Abbasi
Premise: A Swedish customs official (Eva Melander) has a peculiar ability to smell other people’s emotions. She is recruited to assist a police investigation while romancing a strange traveler (Eero Milonoff ) with similar talents.
What Works: Border is an unusual movie. It’s fundamentally a work of fantasy but Border is so grounded and so practical that it evades everything we’re accustomed to expect from a fantasy movie. In fact, viewers who come to Border cold might not realize this is a fantasy picture until about halfway through. The narrative is grounded in a familiar storytelling framework of a woman coming out of her shell and realizing her self-worth. Border focuses on Tina, an unusual looking woman who is employed at a customs station in Sweden. She lives an isolated existence and is clearly lonely, despite having a live-in boyfriend, but she makes a connection with a mysterious traveler who has similar physical qualities. The two of them begin a relationship and discover that their shared physical characteristics are a result of something much more fantastic. Tina realizes who and what she is and no longer feels alone in the world. That’s the most startling quality of Border. The film is a vivid portrait of loneliness and the craving for human connection. The movie’s success is partly due to the way it is shot. Border often has a cold and organic look, especially in outdoor scenes, that contrasts with the emotional warmth of the romance. The filmmakers stage sequences in a way that picks up the subtleties of the performances. Border is led by Eva Melander as Tina and her committed performance cements the credibility of the story. She’s assisted by the prosthetic makeup which suggests the fantastic in a way that’s credible and allows Melander to emote through it.
What Doesn’t: Border is not a movie for everyone. It’s an R-rated fantasy and viewers who enjoy that genre but are looking for something beyond adaptations of young adult novels and comic books should definitely seek it out. But everything that distinguishes Border is also likely to make it difficult for the Friday night audience. Admittedly, the film is a bit slow in its first half. The story takes its time getting going but once the pace picks up the film becomes engaging and even suspenseful. The plot relies on some coincidences and other extensions of credibility. Fortunately, the filmmakers smooth over most of them. This is the kind of story in which the narrative flaws are only obvious in retrospect.
Bottom Line: Border is a gritty fantasy that is grounded in very real human experiences of loneliness and connection. The film is wonderfully weird and if it finds the audience it deserves Border could very likely become a cult favorite.
Episode: #730 (December 23, 2018)