Swedish film “Border”, which won the Un Certain Regard award at the Cannes Film Festival early in last year, is an odd mix of character drama and supernatural horror. Although its attempt to mix these two different genres is not entirely successful due to its rather superficial narrative and characterization, I observed its main characters with some degree of fascination at least, and the movie did not disappoint me as doling out several weird and interesting moments to remember.
The story of the movie mainly revolves around a woman named Tina (Eva Melander), who works for the Swedish Border Agency as shown from the opening scene. While our eyes are instantly drawn to her distinctive facial appearance which is ungainly to say the least, we soon come to learn that she has a special ability to smell shame or guilt from others, and we see how that ability of hers helps her a lot at her workplace. Keenly watching people passing by her and her colleague, she stops anyone smelling suspicious to her, and her instinct always turns out to be right.
She lives in a small residence located in the middle of a forest outside the city, and there is not anyone around her except her dog trainer roommate Roland (Jörgen Thorsson) and a young couple living near her residence. Roland is not particularly close to Tina, and his dogs are usually hostile to her for some unknown reason, but she has tolerated him anyway because, well, she does not want to be alone and lonely.
And then there comes a sudden change on one day. While she works as usual, she encounters a man who looks as ugly as her, and she smells something odd from that guy even though he does not have anything particularly illegal. When she encounters him again, she has him thoroughly searched, but, again, she does not find anything particularly criminal from him, and we get a wryly amusing moment involved with his certain abnormal body part.
While quite baffled about this strange guy, Tina finds herself somehow attracted a lot to him. She later goes to a hostel where he is currently staying, and she and the guy, named Vore (Eero Milonoff), come to feel more of the mutual feeling between them. She subsequently allows him to stay at a guest house next to her residence, and his frequent presence around her makes her more aware of something gradually awakening inside her.
I will not go into details on what she will discover in the end, but I can tell you that director/co-adaptor Ali Abbasi, who adapted John Ajvide Lindqvist’s short story of the same name with Lindqvist and Isabella Eklöf, did a good job of maintaining the level of interest and curiosity. As effectively establishing the moody atmosphere on the screen, cinematographer Nadim Carlsen constantly suggests dark secrets to be revealed sooner or later, and that aspect is further accentuated by the nervous ambient score by Christoffer Berg and Martin Derkov.
And we get a series of peculiar moments as observing the disturbing aspects of the developing relationship between Tina and Vore. There is a bizarre nocturnal scene showing another strange side of Vore, and then there later comes a freakish scene as he and Tina hurl themselves into their carnal urge. Considering his, uh, exceptional physical condition, copulation looks impossible for them at first, but then there come an outrageous moment you have to see you for yourself, and that is certainly one of the most memorable moments in the film.
As spending more time with Vore, Tina becomes more confident about herself, and she comes to consider seriously about living with him, but she also sees the considerable difference between her and Vore. While Vore does not care much about others different from him and Tina, Tina genuinely cares about others around her despite her miserable longtime status as an outsider, and she is willing to go further when she is asked to participate in the police investigation of a certain heinous criminal case which happened to be detected by her.
While the subplot associated with that police investigation is a bit too contrived, the movie still engages us thanks to the solid performances from its two main performers. While covered with heavy facial makeup, Eva Melander is believably awkward and introverted, and she is particularly good when Tina finally lets out what has been suppressed inside for many years. Looking as ungainly as required just like his co-star, Eero Milonoff also gives an engaging performance to watch, and he and Melander are convincing in the dynamic interactions between their characters.
In contrast, the other main performers in the film are stuck in their under-developed supporting characters, but they did as much as they could do with their thankless roles. While Jörgen Thorsson mostly functions well as a sort of comic relief, Sten Ljunggren gives a fine supporting performance as Tina’s aging father, and he has his own good moment around the ending of the film.
Overall, “Border”, which was the Swedish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 2019 Academy Awards but nominated for Best Makeup Oscar instead, is not entirely without flaws, and I am not that satisfied with its rather weak ending, but I recommend it anyway for its good atmosphere and commendable performances. While I still think it could explore its subjects more effectively, I admire what is achieved by Abbasi and his cast and crew at least, and, considering that this is his second feature film, it will be interesting to see what will come next from him.