Ali Abbassi’s second feature BORDER aka Gräns (Sweden, 2018), screened at the 62nd BFI London Film Festival (12 OCT 18:30, Cineworld Leicester Square). The film was introduced by BFI programmer Kate Taylor and Ali Abbassi and followed by a Q&A. Here’s our writeup.
“I don’t want to live like I did before.”
Goddam. The same happened last year with GOOD MANNERS. Ali Abbasi’s BORDER is a film “that holds a huge amount of pleasure in its surprises” (Kate Taylor, in her introduction) so much so that writing about it runs the risk of ruining it for everyone else. Needless to say, we’re not those kind of people…
A mist-shrouded, early morning truffle-hunt of a movie, almost everything here hinges on one almighty central performance from Eva Melander; we literally breathe in every one of her new realities as she embarks on a voyage of self discovery, propelled by her profound sense of smell. As her universe tilts on its axis, we stare into her face through endless, unflattering close-ups. Which sounds implausible given the serious prosthetics on display, but this is a performance that truly hides nothing in order to expose us to, well, everything…
We meet Tina working as a customs guard – “Ugly bitch” yells one underage smuggler – a fish out of water but gifted with preternatural ability to sniff out contraband and wrong-doing. Into the routine of a marginalised life comes Vore, similar but, at least initially, enticingly different. As Tina discovers more about her true self through their developing, intensely erotic relationship, we also discover some unpalatable truths about humanity’s darkest deviances: Tina’s olfactory skills are harnessed by the police to hunt out a pedophile ring hiding in plain sight in the mundane trappings of an urban Ikea apartment.
“I don’t see the point of evil.”
The exposé of serious crime is – for us – the film’s only misstep as the well-worn tropes of Scandi Noir – and the brutally crisp cinematography that plunges everything into stark reality – connect uncomfortably with the plot elements about which we cannot speak but which themselves cannot afford to be too explicit. Whereas GOOD MANNERS took its entire running time to thrillingly throw caution to the wind, some slightly garbled backstory here undercuts the point at which two story worlds should meld seamlessly.
But it’s a small grumble we can live with. It’s thrilling to see a genre film that uses raw animal physicality to such earth-pounding effect, clawing our way to each new revelation one handful of freshly uprooted moss and mealworms at a time. There are digital delights to be had, of course – gently underplayed so as not to feel ‘phoned in from another universe – but the emphasis here is on real bodies learning, through their animal desires, to do disquieting things. Remember how sex sounded the first time someone described it to you at school? It gets icky again here, real fast!
This piece of Scandi storytelling is an at times brutal bolt to the brain, delivering shocking switches on well-worn conventions about gender and identity in genre cinema and a thrilling new character who truly deserves her own box set.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
- Find BORDER (2018) on IMDb.
- BORDER screened at the 62nd BFI London Film Festival (10 to 21 OCT 2018) as the “Dare” strand gala: “In-your-face, up-front and arresting: films that take you out of your comfort zone.”
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Featured Image: BORDER (2018).