Border film review: uncompromisingly artistic and fascinating

Vore (Eero Milonoff) and Tina (Eva Melander) in Border.
Vore (Eero Milonoff) and Tina (Eva Melander) in Border.

ASKED about the movie we’d just seen, one patron suggested there was ‘a lot to digest’ – wow, did she get that one right.

When you’ve seen the main characters eat their fair share of worms, maggots and assorted bugs, you might find things hard to digest. Or even keep down.

Border is that kind of movie; whatever that kind of movie is. As director Ali Abbasi makes clear, he’s no genre guy and this is no genre film.

You could try horror, crime, romance, myth, but you’d be more or less missing the point – whatever the point is.

This is uncompromisingly artistic. If art is a challenge to the senses, a direct assault on what one assumes one knows through experience or understanding of the world, then Abbasi has undoubtedly succeeded. The Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes would suggest the arty crowd agrees.

Trying to explain the plot of this Swedish film, without giving away information on which the narrative sinks or swims, is challenging but here goes.

Vore (Eero Milonoff) and Tina (Eva Melander) in Border.

Tina (Eva Melander) works in customs, sniffing out contraband; the skill extends to volumes of goods and then, to elements of the human response to the searches.

It’s a skill that brings her to the attention of the police, who harness her abilities in busting particularly heinous crimes that require subtle investigation.

The somewhat grotesque Tina (Melander is unrecognisable in real life) comes across Vore (Eero Milonoff), who presents a different sort of challenge to her sensory perceptions.

Physically imposing and rather unappealing by conventional standards of attraction, he eventually moves to a room in the rural property she shares with a shiftless partner.

The coupling of Tina and Vore will define Tina’s identity in unimaginable ways, but her senses don’t lie and there are ugly realities to Vore’s character and activities that can’t be denied.

Based on a short story by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the film shares some of the sensibility of the adaptation of his novel Let the Right One In, merging horror and supernatural elements with ordinary human urges and responses.

Iranian cinema is famous for its lyrical telling of deep truths despite the surface constraints of a highly censorious regime. It’s fascinating to see an Iranian-born director such as Abbasi without such limitations using his concerted artistic palette in such an extravagant yet ultimately disciplined way here.

You can’t help but be moved to a strong response by this material. Just don’t try too hard to get a grasp on what you’ve just seen.

Like a slimy bug, it’s more than likely to escape your efforts.

THE ESSENTIALS

Border (Swedish with English subtitles)

Director: Ali Abbasi

Starring: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff

Four stars

Review: Martin Turner

In cinemas: today