It took weeks – months, maybe – for me to encounter another human being who had seen Border in a theatre. That person’s assessment? “It’s weird.”
And here’s the thing: it is. It really, really is. But weird is not the same thing as bad, and with Border, you too can watch the plight of a woman for an hour without knowing what species she is, and you can even relate to it. Sort of.
Border is a Swedish film, and it’s the story of a woman named Tina (Eva Melander), who gives us cues immediately that she is not like the rest of us. She has unique facial features. She roams the forest at night in her bare feet, and bare more-than-that sometimes. She works at the airport and can sniff out when the people shuffling by her have contraband. In one instance, she even sniffs out that a guy has child pornography on his phone.
She lives in a forest with a deadbeat boyfriend who’s more interested in his dogs and what’s on TV than anything Tina has to say. The dogs freak out when they see her, but otherwise, Tina lays low. She says little at work unless someone talks to her first. She drifts into the retirement home to dutifully visit her dad. She stays out of her boyfriend’s way, and he’s pretty content to do the same. Occasionally she gets negative attention from people who stare in the supermarket, or kids on the verge of saying something blunt and painful, as kids do. Otherwise, she doesn’t get much attention at all.
Enter Vore (Eero Milanoff). He’s another guy with similar facial features who is 40 per cent menacing, 60 per cent creepy. Tina visits him at a hostel where she sees him eating bugs off trees. “That’s gross,” she tells him.
“Says who?” he responds.
“Says everyone,” she says, because how else are you supposed to answer that question?
Fast forward and the two of them are eating bugs like the love-struck dogs in Lady and the Tramp. We’ve all been there though. One minute we’re normal people, then someone intriguing flashes a grin at us and before we know it, we’re eating bugs.
Thematically, Border is a story about self discovery. Tina doesn’t know where she fits, and the life she has is exhausting and cruel. She puts on her uniform. She drives a crappy car. She is vital but ignored. She doesn’t even realize she wants something else – or what that might be – until it’s presented to her. This is not a love story. This is not an adventure, or any genre you’ve seen before. It’s a story about a woman at midlife (or younger? it’s hard to tell) faced with the idea that maybe everything about her life is a comfortable, boring lie in a world where she doesn’t fit. This is the story of a woman who walks into a crowded room and doesn’t know how to start a conversation. This is a woman who attends a baby shower and gives a pained smile to all the cooing and talk of diapers versus pull-ups. She doesn’t know why she doesn’t fit, but she doesn’t, and therein lies life’s most disquieting journey.
So what is it about it that keeps us on edge, never knowing what’s going to happen next? It’s not the colour palette, which is mossy greens and browns. The shots are pretty standard – close ups of characters, long shots of running through the woods. The script doles out information slowly, ploddingly, so it keeps us guessing, and if you haven’t read spoilers, the main question of the first quarter is “what is she?”
But the main cause of unease, really, is Tina herself. Her facial expression stays the same, so we never really know what she’s thinking, and by extension, what she’ll do next. Border has an ominous feel, like any moment, things could go horribly wrong. I’ll keep you in suspense as to whether or not it does.
Border was nominated for an Academy Award for best makeup, which it deserved. It’s streaming on Netflix now. And it is weird. It’s an uneasy ride. But you may see a little of yourself in it too, which makes it all the more uncomfortable. 3/5
Does it pass the Beschdel test? No.
Starring: Eve Melander, Eero Milonoff, Sten Ljunggren, Jörgen Thorsson, Viktor Åkerblom.
Directed by: Ali Abbasi.
Written by: Ali Abbassi, Isabella Eklöf, John Ajvide Lindqvist.