🇸🇪 BORDER 🇸🇪
BORDER (2018) aka Gräns is a Swedish crime, drama, fantasy, romance thriller. 1 hr 50 min. Cert 15 U.K. Subtitled. At present on Film4 U.K. Hulu US, SBS OnDemand Aus, Mubi Can.
“Customs officer Tina is known for her extraordinary sense of smell. It’s almost as if she can sniff out the guilt on anyone hiding something. But when Vore, a suspicious-looking man, walks past her, her abilities are challenged for the first time ever. Tina can sense Vore is hiding something she can’t identify. Even worse, she feels a strange attraction to him. As Tina develops a special bond with Vore and discovers his true identity, she also realizes the truth about herself.”
Eva Melander as Tina
Eero Milonoff as Vore
Jörgen Thorsson as Roland
Ann Petrén as Agneta
Sten Llunggren as Tina’s Pappa
Kjell Wilhelmsen as Daniel
Rakel Wärmländer as Therese
Andreas Kundler as Robert
Matti Bousted as Tomas
Tomas Åhnstrand as Stefan
Josefin Neldén as Esther
Director: Ali Abbasi
Cinematographer: Nadim Carlsen
Writer: Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklöf & John Ajvide Lindkvist (author)
Make-Up & Hair: Göran Lundström, Pamela Goldammer & Erica Spetzig
Music: Christoffer Berg & Martin Dirkov
Sound: Christian Holm
Visual Effects: Peter Hjorth
Editing: Anders Skov & Olivia Neergaard-Holm
Border was Sweden’s selection for nomination consideration for the Oscars 2019 Best Foreign Language Film.
Border is based upon a short story of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his anthology Let the Old Dreams Die.
John Ajvide Lindqvist wrote the first draft of the screenplay, and then Ali Abassi hired Isabella Eklöf to add more “psychological realism” to the story. Casting for the film took 18 months. To transform into the character of Tina, Eva Melander gained a considerable amount of weight and wore prosthetics that took four hours each day to apply.
Locations: the port scenes were filmed at Kapellskär, 60 miles (90km) north of Stockholm.
The term “Hiisi” is used in this movie. Here’s a link for more about Hiisi in Finnish folklore. Perhaps take a look before or after watching.
I went into Border expecting something unusual, folkloric and probably unsettling, and I was not disappointed. I am a fan of fantasy TV shows and movies so I did think this would be just my thing. In truth, it was considerably more odd and disturbing than I had thought it might be. I have seen this described as a modern fairytale, be assured, this is not Disney’s Shrek transported to Sweden.
Let us start with the central character of this film who is Tina an “other” looking Swedish border guard who can smell not only contraband but human emotions. She has a father with dementia, and a couple of scars, one from being hit by lightning. Tina lives with her boyfriend Roland who is besotted by his dogs and competing them. She continually rejects his advances. She is happiest wandering around, barefoot in the forest which surrounds her home. A magically moment is when she lets up and in a way communes with a moose. In the rest of her ordinary everyday life, she is frequently ostracised or called names. She is an outsider one of the “others” who look different. She believes she is as she is because of a faulty chromosome.
Eva Melander is simply astonishing in this role. Not only the physical transformation through prosthetics and weight gain but her sheer physicality and expressiveness. You see how engaged Tina is by Nature, by meeting someone like herself for the first time, falling in love, for being able to get in touch with her real, true self, self-acceptance of her differences and her heritage too, if you will. An incredible performance.
Vore another Troll (because that is what Tina is) is encountered first at the border control and later Tina invites him to stay as a lodger (much to the chagrin of Roland). I will say that disregarding what he looks like Vore is still “off” in some way. He is slightly elusive and we see odd things that he does that aren’t normal.
I thought the Finnish actor Eero Milonoff was outstanding as Vore in this. Again he has the same prosthetics combined with a particularly terrible wardrobe. We see many of the same emotions as with Tina but overlaid with anger, bitterness, revenge and hatred. All these through body language and facial gestures.
The rest of the supporting cast are all really good in this especially the actors playing her father, her hapless (hopeless?) boyfriend and her colleagues at work.
There is a subplot to the story which allows us to see both Tina’s moral compass and the work of a more extremist and deeply damaged mind. This subplot is very disturbing and is set absolutely in the real world. This is a part of the story that will revolt and repel many people. The other part that may well repulse some viewers is without doubt one of the strangest love-making scenes I have ever watched.
Border switches genres freely as it moves along and you certainly cannot categorise it as pure fantasy with application to the real world. However, the story itself and notably its central character, Tina, is a very clear allegory of how society treats those who are different. That is anyone different because of their looks, origins, culture, religion, abilities or disabilities etc. This film challenges us all to think about how the “other” are treated, our own attitudes and actions.
What also struck me is that the treatment of Tina, Vore, their parents and the Troll community and heritage mirror the way various indigenous communities around the world have been/are treated.
Look at the fear, the stereotyping, the exclusion… If we are disgusted by what Vore is involved in then we should be equally disgusted by this also.
This glimpse into the treatment of the “other” also gives us motivations as to why some resort to terrorism, violence etc. to further their cause. Tina is the moral compass in this respect.
I loved the direction and cinematography in this! As the tone of the story itself shifts between the “real” and the “fantasy” so does the direction and camerawork. The most beautiful scenes, even from right near the start are when Tina is in her real home, the forest. The colours become more saturated, the cinematography more ethereal in atmosphere. Beautiful.
Without a doubt, Ali Abbasi is an enormously talented, imaginative and innovative writer and director but hats off also to the other writers.
Massive kudos to the make-up and special effects teams working on this. The prosthetics and the wigs are outstanding and you can see why this received an Oscar nomination. The special effects are so well done that at no point did I consciously think “Wow! Great effects there!” Although the music score seems to have been bypassed by awards I thought it was perfect, beautiful and evocative. The sound design in this is superb, again particularly those scenes in the forest.
Does this film have a fairytale happy ending? Whilst the ending is a little open-ended I do think that this is a happy ending or perhaps even better, a new beginning for Tina. This Tina is a VERY different person from the one we met at the start of the movie. Hopefully, the film will have a deeper effect on the viewer as well.
I liked this film a great deal, although parts are very disturbing. I suspect it is a “Marmite” movie where viewers will tend to be polarised. Can I personally recommend it? If you can suspend disbelief (an absolute requirement for this one) then yes. Might it disturb or upset you? Quite possibly. Is this a worthwhile watch? Absolutely.
18 wins and 30 nominations including an Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Makeup and Styling. Wins include:
Cannes Film Festival (2018) Un Certain Regard Award ~ Ali Abbasi
Robert Award (2019) Best Non-English Language Film ~ Ali Abbasi
European Film Award (2019) European Visual Effects Supervisor ~ Peter Hjorth
Guldbagge Award (2019) Best Sound ~ Christian Holm; Best Film; Best Actress ~ Eva Melander; Best Make-Up ~ Göran Lundström, Pamela Goldammer & Erica Spetzig; Best Visual Effects ~ Peter Hjorth
Los Angeles Film Festival (2018) World Fiction Award, Best Film ~ Ali Abbasi
Munich Film Festival (2018) Cinevision Award, Best Film by an Emerging Director
Norwegian International Film Festival (2018) Norwegian Film Critics Award ~ Ali Abbasi