Border review Eva MelanderYear: 2018
Director(s): Ali Abbasi
Writer(s): Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklof, John Ajvide Lindqvist
Region of Origin: Sweden
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Color, 108 mins

Synopsis: A customs officer who can smell fear develops an unusual attraction to a strange traveler. (Source)

At the core of everything we do, is an innate need to know who we are and how we fit into this world. Our very identity and sense of purpose comes from our ability to embrace this, and it’s this search for meaning that lines Ali Abbasi’s powerful Border. Abbasi’s film (based on a story from John Ajvide Lindqvist) is centered around an outsider forced to adapt into a world she’s never felt comfortable in. Using a heartfelt rendering of existential angst, Abbasi forces us to reevaluate the world around us. This is a film that takes grounded emotions and untethers them from how we’ve been taught to view them, resulting in a romantic, bewildering fairy tale fraught with danger and discovery.

Tina (Eva Melander) possesses uncommon physical features which many would call ugly. She’s definitely not like everyone else, but her strangeness goes mostly unsaid. It also keeps her distant and emotionally isolated from those around her, albeit she’s learned to live with this. Amongst these extraordinary physical traits, is Tina’s preternatural sense of smell. As a customs officer, she uses her gift to sniff out illegal contraband and other harmful items from malicious travelers. She’s able to do this because she can actually smell the feelings of anyone she comes in contact with. One day, she meets a traveller named Vore (Eero Milonoff), who seems similar to her. They share the same distinctive physical qualities, but she can’t understand his smell. Nevertheless, the pair are quickly attracted to each other. As Tina’s entire world is turned upside down, she confronts life-changing truths and an impossible choice.

Much of the film’s magic, is how it continually shifts into the unexpected. It wouldn’t be fair to elaborate on plot specifics, but the fact is, Abbasi’s film is an otherworldly beauty on every level. From the way that Tina’s relationship to nature is rendered, to the film’s contrast of childlike wonder in the face of unspeakable evil, nothing is wasted. Tina’s heightened sense of reality is wholly immersive and challenges what we thought we knew. Still, despite some strangely wonderful implications, the film couldn’t be more enlightening in terms of existential yearning. Deep down, it explores the common traits that tie us together, namely our capacity for compassion, decency, and how we wield these attributes on one another. Ultimately, I can say that this story is an unclassifiable experience, jumping genres while remaining rooted in complex primal urges.

Border Eva Melander Eero MilonoffDespite Abassi’s deft command of tonal unpredictability, Eva Melander and Eero Milonoff’s performances give the film its heart and soul. Leading the charge, Eva Melander’s Tina has a resilience that is utterly moving. Wracked with Tina’s internal turmoil, Melander displays an inner strength that is blinding. With such an internal performance, Melander (obscured by top-rate prosthetics) delivers a physicality and sincerity that shines through. Though we are just as mystified by her as she is, we can’t help but relate as she transforms throughout. As Vore, Eero Milonoff is a perfect foil. By design, Milonoff is harder to read than his co-star, always keeping the audience and those around Vore at an unsteady distance. Still, he exudes charm with ease, and his chemistry with Melander is heart-wrenching.

It’s hard to say much more without ruining what’s in store. The fact is, Border is an enchanting film, even if it doesn’t ignore the horrors that are all around us. In searching for the world within a world, it finds beauty and humanity between the lines. Much like its characters, the film also defies simplistic definition, blending folk mythology with thrilling procedural drama and heart that can’t be ignored.

SG