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Border (2018)

  • Thriller Fantasy Romance Science Fiction Drama
  • When a border guard with a sixth sense for identifying smugglers encounters the first person she cannot prove is guilty, she is forced to confront terrifying revelations about herself and humankind.

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    Swedish

    Description

    A customs officer who can smell fear develops an unusual attraction to a strange traveler while aiding a police investigation which will call into question herentire existence.

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    Reviews

    _Eraserhead_ who? _Final rating:★★★ - I liked it. Would personally recommend you give it a go._

    _**Supremely weird and morally ambiguous; certainly not for everyone**_ > _If the external physical examination didn't produce any results, she would apply for a warrant allowing a doctor to carry out a proper search. Check every orifice._ >_Robert came out, made a comment to the occupant of the room, and closed the door behind him. Tina hurried over. Her heart sank when she was only halfway across the hall; Robert was shaking his head._ >_"Nothing?" she asked._ >_"No," said Robert. "Well, nothing that concerns us, anyway."_ >_"What do you mean?"_ >_Robert drew her a little di__stance away from the door._ >_"Let me put it this way: you can rest easy. He did have something to hide, but nothing punishable by law. The problem is that we've now stopped him twice without..."_ >_"Yes, yes. Do you think I don't know that? So what is it, then?"_ >_The thought had struck her, but she hadn't seriously considered what Robert was suggesting: the fact that they might have been guilty of professional misconduct. Subjecting Vore to an examination on two separate occasions without any solid evidence for doing so. If Vore made a complaint, they would probably be reprimanded._ >_"The thing is," said Robert, "he's...he's a woman."_ >_"Come on, stop winding me up."_ >_Robert folded his arms and looked uncomfortable. With exaggerated clarity he said, "He...or rather she, does not have a penis but a vagina, to use the technical term._ You _should have carried out that search, not me."_ >_Tina stared at him open-mouthed for a few seconds._ >_"You're not joking?"_ >_"No. And it was rather...embarrassing."_ >_Robert looked so miserable that Tina burst out laughing. He looked at her, his expression furious._ >_"Sorry. Has he got...breasts as well?"_ >_"No. He must have had an operation or something. I didn't actually ask. He's got like a big scar just above his bum, by his tailbone. Whatever that might be. Now it's_ your _turn to talk to him and try to explain that -"_ >_"What did you say? A scar?"_ >_"Yes. A scar. Here." Robert pointed to the bottom of his back. "If you want to take this any further, you can do it yourself." He shook his head and headed off towards the cafeteria. Tina stayed where she was, looking at the closed door. When she had thought things through she opened it and went in._ - John Ajvide Lindqvist; "Gräns"; from the short story collection _Pappersväggar_ [_Paper Walls_] (2006), republished in _Låt de gamla drömmarna dö_ [_Let the Old Dreams Die_] (2011) Based on the short story of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, written for the screen by Lindqvist, Ali Abbasi, and Isabella Eklöf, and directed by Abbasi, _Gräns_ [_Border_] is an intimate character drama, a study of loneliness, a romance, a police procedural, a body-horror, an investigation into what gives us our humanity, a psychological thriller, and a crime movie, set in a half-realist/half-fantastical _milieu_ which sees a woman who can smell guilt and commune with animals working as a customs agent at a small Swedish port. Because, obviously! However, no matter how fanciful the plot becomes, it remains grounded in an emotional realism which serves to normalise the outrageous events we're witnessing. Also a socio-political allegory and a mythological fable, _Gräns_ is indefinable, switching fluidly from one genre to the next and one idea to the next, taking in such issues as the Other, the tribe, social ostracisation, social assimilation, and our tendency to rush to superficial judgements of that which we don't understand or which is different. Superbly acted and directed, there are, of course, a few problems; a subplot that feels disconnected from the main narrative, a ridiculous coincidence (the likes of which only ever happens in films), a twist you can see a mile away, and a pronounced moral ambiguity which is extremely difficult to parse. Nevertheless, this is unique filmmaking, which raises all manner of questions about how we act towards others, a crucial theme in a political arena which has seen an unprecedented growth in casual racism and xenophobic hatred. Tina (a superb Eva Melander, acting under heavy prosthetics) is a customs officer with the ability to smell guilt, which makes her exceptionally good at her job. Suffering from deformities that give her a somewhat Neanderthal-like appearance, she lives an isolated life with her boyfriend Roland (Jörgen Thorsson), who is more interested in his pet Rottweilers that he is Tina. Unable to have sex because it hurts her too much, she and Roland sleep in separate beds. As the film begins, Tina intercepts a man (Viktor Åkerblom-Nilsson) carrying child pornography on his SIM card. It transpires that the police have been attempting to crack a prolific child porn ring for several months without any luck, and needing all the help she can get, the lead detective, Agneta (Ann Petrén), asks Tina to assist on the case. Meanwhile, Tina is shocked to encounter Vore (an extraordinarily physical performance by Eero Milonoff), who has the same deformities as herself. Although she smells something on him, she isn't sure what it is, and she lets him through customs. A few days later, he passes through again, this time volunteering to be searched. Her colleague, Robert (Andreas Kundler), conducts the body search, but quickly discovers that Vore has a vagina. When he tells Tina that Vore also has a large scar on his back, at the base of his spine, she is shocked, as she too has such a scar. She visits her father, Birger (Sten Ljunggren), who is suffering from early stage dementia, to ask about her scar, which he says she got from a fall when she was three. Intrigued by Vore, Tina meets up with him and offers to let him stay in her guest house, much to Roland's chagrin. Back on the trail of the child porn ring, Tina is able to identify the apartment in which the filming is taking place, and although they bust those in the apartment, they are unable to find anything on who may be trafficking the children. Meanwhile, back at Tina's house, she and Vore begin to grow closer, until a fierce thunderstorm brings them together in ways they never expected. Given the fantastical elements of the plot, one of the most interesting things about _Gräns_ is how grounded in realism the aesthetic is. According to Abbasi, the > _story is stylised, it's not realism; there are other elements, and it's elevated. So we thought instead of going with that, with stylised shots or framing that kind of signals something_ special _is going on, we tried to go the_ other _way. Instead of going with the magical, we went with the realism in our cinematic language, which I think was the right thing to do because it kind of anchors the realism. Because if it wasn't_ real_, you probably wouldn't care about Tina._ Abbasi has a point here - one of the strongest elements of the film is how emotionally engaging and relatable Tina's arc is; the events are fantastical in places, but the emotions are very much grounded in the everyday - loneliness, shyness, fear, love, disgust etc. The magic realist aesthetic allows the more unusual elements to exist without seeming (too) ridiculous, whilst also establishing that the world of the film is essentially the real world, just with some garnish added (in a strange way, it actually reminded me of Phil Alden Robinson's _Field of Dreams_ (1989), a film set in a realistic _milieu_ that also features, without commentary or explanation, ghosts, communication with the afterlife, and time travel). Abbasi does set up a contrast, however, between the scenes in the forest which surrounds Tina's home and the rest of the locations. The forest is presented as a somewhat magical place from the start - it is where Tina is most comfortable (an early scene in which she chills with a gigantic moose is both illustrative of her psychology and extremely beautiful), where she goes when life starts to overwhelm her, often taking her shoes off so as to feel better connected to the natural world. Later, the forest is where Tina and Vore spend a lot of their time, where they give in to their attraction to one another (in what is easily the most bizarre sex scene outside a Lizzy Borden film you're likely to see all year), and where they explore their history. Whilst everything else is filmed with a cold palette dominated by grey and washed out light blues and greens, with relatively unattractive locations, the forest is presented very differently - the colours are richer and deeper; the design elements are more imaginative; the camera work is more fluid; even the sound design is different, heightening the crunch of feet on the forest floor, the scurrying of insects, the wind blowing through the trees, the crash of water at a small waterfall, suggesting the whole place is vibrant and alive, in stark contrast to the cold stolid concrete and steel world seen elsewhere. Thematically, _Gräns_ functions as both a straightforward narrative about loneliness and morality _and_ as a political allegory about the Other, belonging, tribalism, hatred based on difference. The opening scene establishes Tina as the emotional lynchpin of the story, showing both her kindness and her attraction to the animal world, as she gently handles a bug, before carefully placing it back into the grass. This theme continues throughout the film - there's the aforementioned scene with the moose, a scene with a fox at Tina's window in the middle of the night, a scene in which she is rushing her neighbour to hospital to give birth and stops to let a family of deer cross the road. These scenes are shot by cinematographer Nadim Carlsen with a sense of wonder, and an almost ethereal quality that wouldn't have been out of place in something like Ridley Scott's _Legend_ (1985) or Rob Reiner's _The Princess Bride_ (1987). It's as far removed from the mundanity of the customs desk or the brutality of the child porn ring as you can imagine. This is also reflected in the sex scene, which Abbasi and Carlsen shoot in such a way as to imply that Tina and Vore attain an emotional and spiritual transcendence far removed from the commonplaceness of an orgasm. The fact that immediately afterwards, as they lie side by side in the forest, he tells her the history of their "species", solidifies the role the forest plays in the themes of the film, as their bond serves to deconstruct societal norms. For all her closeness to animals, however, Tina is just as distant from humans; she has a good relationship with her father, with Robert, and with a young couple who live nearby (Tomas Åhnstrand and Josefin Neldén), but her relationship with Roland is dysfunctional at best, and she's desperately lonely, in a society that shuns based on appearance. Indeed, one of the most salient themes in the film is the question of how we treat the Other, people who don't fit into our definition of normal, or whom we don't understand. Vore himself is introduced as something of a rebel against social norms; whereas Tina is ashamed of and tries to hide her differences from everyone else, he is proud of and leans into his - seen most clearly at a buffet, where he takes all the smoked salmon, and then hungrily eats it with little concern for social etiquette (or buffet etiquette). The film also touches on issues such as what gives us our humanity, suggesting that in a world populated by humans lacking in humanity (seen most clearly in the child pornographers), maybe Tina and Vore are the most human characters, or certainly the most humane. Tied to this is the notion of finding one's tribe, and what kind of sacrifices and subversions of one's moral code, if any, are acceptable in that search. However, the film is also interested in the audience's morality as well as that of the characters'. In short, it ends in an extremely morally ambiguous manner, and, to be honest, I found it very difficult to parse what Abbasi (or Lindqvist) is trying to say with it. I don't want to give any spoilers, but in essence, Tina is forced to make decisions based on her own morality, at the expense of her emotional instincts, whilst Vore must attempt to justify something horrific (actually several things horrific) by way of arguing that humans have always persecuted beings like them. I'm not sure if the film had a happy ending or not, and although I got most of the symbolism and the allegories and the socio-political critiques, I've rarely come out of a movie with such a pronounced case of "what was the director trying to say with that?" Elsewhere, the whole child porn subplot is troubling from a narrative point of view. For starters, it's not very convincing in its concrete details (for example, Tina is allowed sit in on a suspect interrogation), whilst the idea of a couple running a child porn ring from their apartment seems a little unlikely. Additionally, for the most part, the subplot serves to do little but detract from the main plot. I get that it's there to show us Tina's abilities and her moral code, but too much time is given to it without it being made to seem in any way urgent or important. And when it is finally integrated into the main narrative, it does so with a plot twist so telegraphed, if you don't see it coming, you've never seen a thriller before. Also, when we learn how the two plots connect, and when we backtrack in our mind to the start of the film, we find that the entire house of cards relied on a monumental coincidence which none of the characters could possibly have predicted, which cheapens both plot strands. These missteps aside, _Gräns_ defies and subverts genre at every turn, remaining impossible to classify. Positing a message about how being different isn't that bad when you still have your morals and self-respect, it also suggests to those of us that consider ourselves normal, that we shouldn't be so quick to judge the Other, whether that Other is physically different, of a different ethnicity, a different religion etc. Exposing the layers upon which our society is built, the film is unafraid to suggest that hypocrisy and exclusion are major facets of Western civilisation. At a time when there are increasing calls for closed borders, increasingly irrational fear of the Other as represented by normal men and women who practice Islam, and increasingly jingoist and xenophobic hatred of anything not perfectly in line with established societal norms, the fact that Tina wants to integrate into normal society, but is essentially prevented from doing so, speaks volumes for our social ethos. The plot does go off the rails in the third act, and the morality of the _dénouement_ is a little questionable, but this is still a fine piece of work with a lot on its mind.

    Comments

    9 months ago

    So grateful for this. Saw it in a crummy rip awhile back, a fascinating film with a wild premise and some very indeterminate morality. Worth watching!

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