Border movie review: Ali Abbasi's genre-bending film offers a unique blend of fantasy, crime and romance

Mihir Fadnavis

Nov 06, 2018 11:05:36 IST

4/5

Language: Swedish

If you think you’ve seen every possible permutation of genre bender cinema, the Swedish film Border is here to kick you in the nuts and show you something entirely new. Blending conventional elements into something brilliantly original, Border delivers many things simultaneously, including a fantasy tale, a crime drama and an allegory for romance.

 Border movie review: Ali Abbasis genre-bending film offers a unique blend of fantasy, crime and romance

A still from Border. Image via Twitter

If last year’s Bright weren’t tone deaf and actually had layers and a coherent message to back its fantastical premise, it would turn into Border.  We’re introduced to Tina (Eva Melander), who is a customs agent at a Swedish border crossing. Except there’s something different here – Tina does not look like a human; she has bizarre facial corruptions and like an animal has the ability to sniff out danger – a skill she puts to use in discovering drug smugglers. Back home, she lives with her boyfriend (who is a ‘normal’ human) but they sleep in different rooms. Things take a turn upon the arrival of Vore (Eero Milonoff), who also seems to be a half-human half-animal hybrid just like Tina, and it doesn’t take long for the sparks to fly between the two.

The film is written by John Ajvide Lindqvist who was also responsible for Let the Right One In, another metaphorical species crossing tragic romance whose ghost sort of lingers in Border. Refreshingly, director Ali Abbasi is often more interested in mood, tone and frame composition than in a straightforward narrative and the lack of dependence on a traditional plot-driven structure leads to both serene and often powerfully moving moments. There’s also the off-kilter stuff – like Tina’s facial abnormality which is never really addressed for a very long time, which leads to questions of what this means – whether the people in this world don’t judge folks who are different, or whether this is a metaphor for immigrants, or given the relationship between Tina and her boyfriend and the eventual arrival of Vore if this is just about finding the right partner who complements you in every way.

Given the bizarre sex scenes under the pulpy prosthetic makeup of its leads, as well as the human vs animal transgressions, Border could so easily have been a John Waters-like trashy comedy but the fact that it works as a poignant piece of cinema is a testament to the skill and sensitivity of everyone involved with the film. There’s a subversive intelligence at work in the film which often transcends scattershot cultural literacy, offering an exotic perspective one doesn’t get to see very often in mainstream films.

And yet despite the many metaphorical aspects, director Abbasi never lets a heavy message get in the way of the many straightforward cinematic thrills the film packs. This arthouse and pulp bridging quality of the filmmaker, his flair for finding the sweet spot between romance, horror and social commentary certainly marks the arrival of a huge talent, and heaven knows film geeks could use more of these people churning out content that sets fire to the rules of cinema, particularly in the horror department. It’s going to be interesting to see what he does with a bigger sandbox of cinematic toys.

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Updated Date: Nov 06, 2018 11:05:36 IST