‘Border’ is not afraid to cross into bizarre territory
Directed by: Ali Abbasi
Written by: Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklof and John Ajvide Lindqvist
Starring: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff and Jorgen Thorsson
“Border” – Tina (Eva Melander) is a border agent, and to say, “She is effective at her job,” is an understatement! Thousands of travelers pass by Tina and her coworkers, but she can sniff out those few troublemakers who attempt to smuggle alcohol, drugs and/or much worse. Literally sniff them out. She possesses an uncanny sense to pinpoint one’s “shame, guilt or rage” and, along with those emotions, specific items in which he or she is attached.
Tina has an extraordinary gift, and she does not fit a standard profile either. By most physical beauty-benchmarks, she is unattractive, and extremely so. With a protruding forehead, a snarled jawline, unkempt hair, and the self-confidence of a rookie stand-up comic bombing on stage, Tina could – most unfortunately - moonlight as a propped-up circus attraction in the evenings.
During the film’s third act – she mentions that kids teased and tormented her throughout her childhood, and as an adult, Tina is simply ignored and/or shunned. She doesn’t feel like she belongs.
Well, director Ali Abbasi’s picture certainly belongs among the best films of the year. Sweden submitted “Border” to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to compete for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but this movie also contains a very unusual premise and the single most bizarre on-screen moment that this critic witnessed in 2018. No question. In fact, this specific scene could provoke unsuspecting couples (on a first date or going on 30 years of marriage) to walk out of theatres or wish that they picked another movie.
Consider this a dire warning.
“Border” is not a spiritual sister to “Mary Poppins Returns” (2018) or “Ralph Breaks the Internet” (2018). Abbasi’s rated-R picture delves into perplexing adult themes (and sometimes very explicitly), that will surely spur surreal disbelief and highly-uncomfortable anxiety for the audience. Tina and Vore (Eero Milonoff), a man who she meets at the border, lead this angst-inducing charge, but some tangential characters step into sinister territory.
Tina, however, is not sinister. Just misunderstood, and this 1-hour 50-minute picture canvasses Tina’s trip into self-discovery that falls outside her typical 9-to-5 duties. Abbasi keeps us off-balance from the get-go with stark framing of Tina’s out of bounds appearance and behavior, but soon veers into her personal life. Her relationship with her slacker boyfriend Roland (Jorgen Thorsson) will not win any couple-of-the-year contests, as he prefers to ingest a daily diet of ramen noodles and 14 hours of television. While Tina’s job may be an appropriate fit, it does not exactly provide much joy, and Roland’s preferences for the couch and gambling do not exactly translate into a winning formula of love and support.
In many ways, Tina’s predicament of feeling like an outsider is not unlike many others wandering the planet in 2018, but her particular circumstances are more complicated and severe. Vore holds the key to unlock Tina’s lifelong questions, but she barely knows him, and although they share a similar appearance (like long-lost siblings from a twisted gene pool), do they share the same values?
Well, they do look alike, and that’s a starting point for Tina.
For the actors, they endured four hours of prosthetics and makeup applications each day before filming, and despite living and breathing under layers and layers of cosmetic concealments, Melander effectively emotes both Tina’s frustration and desires, while Milonoff equally communicates Vore’s certain – but unknown - ambitions. Vore masks (pardon the pun) his intentions very well, but he openly shares his taste for maggots. Maggots? Yes, and again, you’ve been warned.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.