Border (Gräns, Ali Abbasi, 2018)
A couple of times I’ve taught Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John Avjide Lundqvist’s Let the Right One In, an intriguing vampire film with a nod to The Tin Drum. There’s been a remake and a TV series and now a short story has been adapted, billed as horror but maybe is better seen as a fantasy or a dark romance.
Tina (Eva Melander) has the ability to smell fear and works at customs at a Swedish ferry terminal; she also has some kind of genetic abnormality and has been bullied for being ugly all her life. One of the people she catches is dealing with some kind of child pornography, another, Vore (Eero Milonoff), seems to be smuggling maggots and is later seen scoffing all the smoked salmon from the ferry buffet breakfast.
Tina is drawn into the police investigations and her powers are strangely taken for granted by the authorities — I wonder what they actually know already? But she is increasingly unsettled, less tolerant than before with her housemate and quasi boyfriend Roland (Jörgen Thorsson) and anxious about her ageing father (Sten Ljunggren), although (and uncannily) the foxes and moose of the area seem to love her. There is a definite connection between Vore and her, and somehow he knows her secret even if she doesn’t.
Here we’d be in spoiler territory and I think I will step away. I was convinced I’d guessed what it was, but I was brilliantly wrong, but Lundqvist has brought a different take to the repository of fantastical beings and as with Let the Right One In does interesting things with gender identity.
Somewhere in here presumably is an exploration of the treatment of the Sámi by southern immigrants and the Christian culture they brought with them — eugenics, sterilisation, forced assimilation and land theft. But you can settle for the encounter of the fantastic and the mundane, as the film offers a series of extraordinary and unsettling imagery (and fine prosthetics). It is perhaps a little slow, and there’s an awkward fade to black that felt that the actual ending, but I think it rewards patience.