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