The Movie Waffler New Release Review - BORDER | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - BORDER

border film review
A lonely customs officer meets a mysterious man who shares her odd facial features.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ali Abbasi

Starring: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jörgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén, Sten Ljunggren

border film poster

Given its title, you might think Swedish drama Border is the latest in a string of European films to tackle the subject of the continent's ongoing refugee crisis. Rather it's a magic-realist fantasy, though it does have something to say to say about the struggles those who look different to the majority have in settling into a society.

border film review

Tina (Eva Melander) is a border security agent with an oddly deformed face and a mouth full of almost animalistic snaggleteeth. She also possesses the gift of being to sniff out guilt, which allows her to excel in her line of work, picking out travellers carrying everything from imported alcohol to child pornography. Despite her abilities, Tina lives a lonely existence, unaccepted by the masses and sharing her home with a layabout (Jörgen Thorssonwith a nasty habit of entering her bed when he's drunk.

One day at work, Vore (Eero Milonoff), a mysterious man who possesses the exact same facial makeup as Tina, passes through her border point. When he's pulled aside for a strip search, the male officer concerned is embarrassed to discover Vore doesn't possess male genitalia. Tina seeks out Vore, who helps her discover her true nature, and the two embark on a relationship. But Vore is filled with anger towards society, and things soon take a dark turn, forcing Tina to choose between Vore and the 'normal' people she never felt accepted by.

border film review

Border is bleak in a way only Scandinavian cinema seems capable of. It's a procession of increasingly miserable moments for its heroine, and there's a cheapness to how it portrays the worst elements of humanity in an attempt to get us onside with Tina's isolation, including a subplot concerning the ultimate taboo of child abuse. It's all too easy to simply present humanity at its worst, not so easy to put the effort into making Tina a figure we can empathise with, rather than simply feel sorry for, as is the case here.

What's doubly disappointing about this aspect of Border is that one of its screenwriters is Isabella Eklöf, writer/director of the incredible Danish drama Holiday. With that movie, Eklöf similarly gave us a female protagonist trapped in a hellish milieu, but while she was subjected to several atrocities, there was an odd strength to her acceptance of her situation, and by its climax you felt guilty for expecting her to follow a path determined by your own moral compass. By comparison, Tina is merely a victim with a capital V.

border film review

Much praise has been heaped on the make-up work that gives Tina and Vore their distinctive features, but I have to say I found it distractingly false, less convincing than the prosthetics worn by actors playing alien races in '90s era Star Trek shows. It's bad enough that Tina and Vore are so one-dimensional on the page, but thanks to the heavy make-up, actors Melander and Milonoff struggle to emote through their masks, keeping us at yet another distance. Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter they ain't!

Border is in UK/ROI cinemas March 8th.

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