This review contains spoilers.
“Border,” a Swedish hybrid of fantasy and thriller, is one of the first standouts in the race for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Winning the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard competition and receiving heavy award buzz, “Border” is filmmaker Ali Abbasi’s interpretation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s short story of the same name.
It is also one of the most polarising films released this year.
The film stars Eva Melander as Tina, a border security guard at a Swedish port with almost otherworldly, animalistic features and a stocky body. Tina is able to smell emotions and is therefore uncannily equipped at sniffing out contraband in people’s luggage.
Tina lives a monotonous life, ignored by her partner Ronald (Jorgen Thorsson) and barely recognized by her aging father (Sten Ljunggren). She takes comfort in the nature that surrounds her remote property.
Tina’s mundane routine is interrupted by a chance arrival of Vore (Eero Milonoff) — a man with the same peculiar facial and bodily appearance she has — as he enters the port into Sweden. Tina’s attraction to Vore leads her down a rabbit hole of self-discovery, not only revealing her true biological history, but her hidden self-confidence.
This is not typical Hollywood cinema with beautiful actors falling in love with each other.
Instead, Tina and Vore scream and spit as they have sex in the woods, their bodies thrusting in an animalistic fashion on the dirt and moss.
The use of objectively unattractive leads is not often seen on screen. But the relatability of Tina’s struggle with her identity and outward appearance is extremely relatable and allows the audience to empathize with her despite an initial repulsion to her looks.
The film challenges the viewer to look past beauty standards and judge people on their character.
A subplot involving child pornography and abuse further questions human moral standards and the film trope of describing characters as soley good or evil.
Although the film eloquently challenges societal notions and includes outstanding acting from both leads, it also attempts to accomplish too much.
Part fantasy, part thriller, part love story — the film slides off the rails at times as it tries to connect all of these plot elements at once. The romantic aspect of the film also doesn’t land, as Vore’s character appears unlikeable from the beginning, and the dark undertones of the film swallow any whimsy amour between characters whole.
Still, the imagination and wit of the film should be greatly lauded. Audiences have never viewed a film like this before, but some may wish they had stayed at home.