Ali Abbasi's Border


Fiction, 110’, Sweden.
Ali Abbasi’s Border is two different stories, styles, genres, worlds, rolled into one. The realism of the drab Scandinavian countryside, captured handheld, is pushed to the extreme of surrealness, as a romance blossoms between border security guard Tina (Eva Melander) and pond life enthusiast Vore (Eero Milonoff). They are both outsiders, physically exaggerated by the prosthetics the actors wear, their grotesqueness contrasting with the banality of the setting. Tina is infertile and Vore does not have genitals; he even claims to be a troll and has a matching lightning scar to Tina, which he uses to prove that they belong to the same tribe. He claims they are not human and this is to their advantage. In one scene, Tina grows a sex organ in front of our eyes. It is about the monotony of the woods and the mystery that lies within them. 

On the other end of the spectrum, there is the fact of Tina’s profession and her almost supernatural ability to literally sniff out trouble. She smells the maggots that Vore tries to carry through customs (this is how they meet), and she can also less explicably smell indecent images of children on one traveller’s hard drive. The latter plot strand leads us into a strangely conventional European police procedural that involves waiting in cars outside people’s apartments and breaking in to rummage around for unsavoury video tapes. The quality and success of the two separate genres and styles - surreal romance, straight procedural - are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes the weirdness of the relationship feels undisciplined; sometimes a mystery plot is enjoyable. It is when the two converge that Border runs into problems.

The greatest success of the script, based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s short story, co-written by Abbasi and Isabella Eklöf (whose feature debut Holiday is also playing at LFF this year), is how it is able to analyse the strangeness of these characters without sensationalising or exploiting them. By not indulging in a ‘freakish’ depiction of Tina and Vore, like I, Tonya does with its characters, Border challenges rather than reaffirms our beauty standards and questions the heteronormativity that we expect from film romances. It is unfortunate that an unnecessary twist then slightly redefines this, but where Vore tells Tina, “You shouldn’t listen to what other humans say”, a closer interpretation of the film might the quotation by Roman playwright Terence: “Nothing human is alien to me”. Border may not win Best Picture this year, but it is a far deeper exploration of outsider love than The Shape of Water, not to mention taboo.

—Theo Macdonald

Scenes Journal Three Films to see at London Film Festival

By Theo Macdonald

The BFI London Film Festival is expensive. Tickets range from £9.90 (if you're a student) to £25. Unless you are a critic or get free tickets to films through nepotism you are unlikely to be able to see more than three films. Assuming this is the case, make sure you are smart with your choices, meaning a) resist the temptation to see films that come out a month later in UK cinemas (Good Time, Beach Rats, The Florida Project), b) don't see a film that you probably plan to see in the cinema with your friends anyway (Three Billboards, Journey's End (not)), c) try to see stuff that will be hard to catch on a big screen elsewhere. With that in mind, here are three suggestions of movies to watch at the BFI London Film Festival, but of course feel free to ignore them and go to whatever you want.


MUDBOUND dir. Dee Rees.

Reason: being released on Netflix, no UK release date yet

Mudbound is a 1940s set epic southern gothic about neighbouring black and white families wading through the Mississippi land. It deals with racism, oppression and everything else that grows out of the soil of America's consciousness. It is directed by Dee Rees, someone who has the opposite of ignorance on this subject since she is the opposite of a white man. That said, the story sounds like William Faulkner's social conscience vibrating on the plucked strings of the blues (Blind WIllie Johnson is on the soundtrack). And it has Jason Mitchell who stole the show in Straight Outta Compton as Eazy Muthaphuckkin E. Rees' first film, Pariah, was a realist marvel, and if this movie is half as good as that, with several times the budget, it should be exceptional.


Reason: this man's films are impossible to see

Hong Sang Soo is Woody Allen if he was less of a punk and an egotist, and South Korean. His movies are stubbornly similar tales of filmmakers and the victims of their masculinity. They have strong female characters who defy these soju-soaked monomaniacs and wander to temples on their own. They have funny, relatable moments like a homesick tourist in Paris staring at somebody's oysters through a restaurant window and being shooed away (Allen would never allow his protagonist's humiliation to occur so far removed from his intellect). They are about the repetitive instances of our daily lives and the absurdity that comes from our powerlessness to prevent them. They are about me and you and they barely ever come out in cinemas here, so try and see this one.



ANA, MON AMOUR. dir: Călin Peter Netzer.

Reason: it's a Romanian film with a French title that has a comma in it

Romanian films with commas in them are usually good. The more commas the better. Check out 4, Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (one of the few modern masterpieces) if you don't believe me, along with Tuesday, After Christmas (the comma here is ambiguous) and Police, Adjective. The Romanian New Wave marks the only significant national cinema movement of this century, so it's always worth seeing one of their films if you can, especially when it comes from the pedigree of the director of Child's Pose, a realistic thriller about social privilege and the Oedipus complex that won the Golden Bear at Berlin in 2013.