Marrying the ideas of fitting in as an outcast and the intrigue of finding your tribe, Ali Abbasi’s Oscar nominated and award-winning film adds a fresh spin to the concepts of self-acceptance and the dark underbelly of humanity.

Romance, surrealistic horror, carnalism and the stagnancy of a life lived unfulfilled. This genre busting piece subverts both the viewers expectations and the conventions of mono-categorisation with regards to what a film can and can’t be.

What strikes first is the Cinematography, Sound Design and Scenery. The opening scenes of a Swedish port border imbues a feeling of wanting to take a deep breath, before really enjoying your senses of smell, vision and sight to their fullest. Nadim Carlsen’s cinematography shines bright here.

We’re introduced to the main protagonist Tina (Eva Melander), who we establish in the opening scenes is someone the world hasn’t treated kindly as she’s referred to as an “ugly bitch.”

Tina’s face says it all. You can see how many times she’s dealt with this by Melander’s performance, despite having layers of latex on her face taking 4 hours to apply per shoot. Melander also had to gain 40 lbs of weight quite literally to fill the role.

The make-up really is convincing, going into this film with no idea of the make-up process or actors involved, one would think that this was how the actor genuinely looked. There’s no wonder why it’s been nominated for a Best Hair and Make-Up gong at the Oscars this year.

Our protagonist looks different to almost everyone else in the film, with a deformed face and teeth which visually separates her from the rest of the characters involved. This adds to her relatability to anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider, with Melander’s performance enhancing this further.

Eero Milonoff and Eva Melander in Border Credit: CHRISTIAN GEISNÆS, META, SPARK, KÄRNFILM

Eero Milonoff and Eva Melander in Border  Credit: CHRISTIAN GEISNÆS, META, SPARK, KÄRNFILM

As a Border and Customs Officer, Tina has a unique ability to detect and identify items in people’s luggage, which begins to evolve more as the plot develops. This places her in an authoritative position compared to her colleague, who respects her established prowess.

The breathtaking Nordic countryside scenery we’re treated to is a wanderlustful soundscape, with subtle angelic synths and kalimba-esque tones overlaying the visuals. Christoffer Berg and Martin Dirkov, tasked with the music of the film, really nail the feeling of positive absence and the strength found in solitude.

Her partner Roland is the perfect example of negative absence, a stark and well thought out contrast to the absence experienced by Tina when she is with nature. Roland is simply not there for her, a selfish freeloader who Tina seemingly keeps around for nothing more than the company.

The film also establishes the main protagonist’s connection with wildlife, and has animals approach her in a friendly and jovial way, with the exception of Roland’s dogs, who seem aggressive and overly-hostile to her.

Tina is visibly shaken when her talents are challenged in her work, and she seemingly fails to detect something that a mysterious man (Eero Milonoff) is carrying. The man looks much like Tina and, when asked to be searched, Tina’s colleague finds nothing conclusive.

Milonoff’s support is brilliant, and his performance as a more disenfranchised outsider than Tina throughout the film is evident, with the emotion carried well by his vindictive words to the rest of society. Tina’s strange attraction to the man is shown to be subtle from the beginning, and grows well as the film progresses.

Eero Milonoff and Eva Melander in Border Credit: CHRISTIAN GEISNÆS, META, SPARK, KÄRNFILM

Eero Milonoff and Eva Melander in Border  Credit: CHRISTIAN GEISNÆS, META, SPARK, KÄRNFILM

Beyond this point lies spoiler territory, but what can be said is that the film itself is carried by subversive and hinging plot points which slowly uncover the life that Tina’s led, and bring to the surface the life that Tina could and maybe should have had.

Border shows that even when everything you know is a lie, the prospects of starting again and living in truth may be worth breaking out of the cage of normality. Drawing parallels to those who perhaps feel a degree of stagnancy in their lives over longer periods of time.

The interactions with all of the characters culminate well towards the end, with most of the major questions posed by the movie answered either in full or in part.

Tina is often tasked with choosing between the truth and her humanity, and the choices that she makes throughout the film lead her on a journey of self-discovery and appreciation for the world she was brought up in.

Abbasi’s movie adds to the narrative of the book Gräns, which it is based on, by adding minor interactions to explain further her abilities and her grasp of humanity.

The film however does leave areas of ambiguity in the viewer’s mind, which would unfortunately be hard to fill in considering the two hour run time.

Overall, the mystery of the film does come to a brilliant and satisfying conclusion. The synthesised lullaby-like soundtrack in the final scenes really does help to conclude and bring together the overall feelings of the story and the main protagonist. An almost-perfect compilation of the human story.

 

Verdict: ★★★★

 

Tune in to the Oscars to see if Border wins the award for Best Hair and Make-Up on Sunday 24 February 2019.