Sweden-based Iranian director Ali Abbasi’s new film features quasi-Neanderthal misfits making love in the woods and asks what it is to be human
Border is a film so packed with strange surprises that it’s best to see it without knowing anything about it, and almost impossible to discuss in a spoiler-free way. So if that’s the experience you crave, read no further. As its title suggests, Borders blurs boundaries. The story begins at a literal border – a Swedish ferry terminal – and proceeds to dismantle more abstract ones: between human and animal, male and female, civilised and primal, right and wrong, possibly sublime and ridiculous. In terms of genre, too, it straddles Nordic noir, outsider romance and folk fantasy. And it features what could well be the weirdest sex scene in the history of cinema.
Our heroine is Tina, a customs officer who immediately seems odd. Her features are almost Neanderthal, with a heavy brow and protruding teeth. Played by Swedish actor Eva Melander (under a layer of facial prosthetics), Tina is a lonely misfit, more at home in the natural world than the human one. She has the ability to sniff out contraband at the border: smuggled alcohol, or, in one pivotal instance, a memory card containing child pornography. “I can just sense these things,” she tells her boss. Things take a turn when an equally Neanderthal-looking stranger named Vore (Finnish actor Eero Milonoff) passes through the border one day. He carries live maggots in his luggage, and he sends Tina’s smell test haywire.