Ali Abbasi’s magic realist story Border mashes together the spectacular and the mundane. It’s a kitchen sink fairy-tale, part Prime Suspect, part Pan’s Labyrinth; an innately weird movie that unfolds with a slow-burn sense of unease peppered with unsettling moments of horror and also with genuine tenderness.
It picked up the Un Certain Regard gong at Cannes last year and was also nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling at this year’s Academy Awards for its head-turning prosthetics. Deliberately paced and frequently creepy, it nevertheless has a buoyancy and sense of almost childlike glee that cuts through some of the more grotesque moments of body horror, dipping into the realm of bedtime story.
Working as a customs officer at a Swedish port, Tine (Eva Melander) has the curious gift of being able to smell emotions. This puts her at a distinct advantage in her work as, when guilt-ridden smugglers of drugs and child pornography walk through the border, she can sniff them out at twenty paces. As well as her olfactory super-strength, she lives with a physical stigma: a Neanderthal-esque brow and face that marks her out from the rest, as another and in her own words, a “freak”. Her disconnection with her surroundings is eased when a lone man bearing a striking, almost sibling likeness appears at customs. It is obvious that, whatever afflicts Tina also afflicts this stranger going by the name of Vore (Eero Milonoff) and his arrival into her world brings a host of strange new truths.
Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s short story Grans, it’s part Cronenbergian folk tale, part plug hole of domestic strife. Most of all, it’s a story of self-discovery and treatise on minorities at the margins of society. It’s also sweet story of blossoming love that stands in contrast to the movie’s early moments of everyday life and everyday tedium. Look past the thick rubbery special effects and it’s also a relatable yarn; a melancholy story of social angst felt by a loner, eased by friendship and self-discovery.