It is always intriguing to sit through a film that slips genres and eventually catches you unawares. Director Ali Abbasi’s Swedish language film Border (Gräns) kicks off as an investigative drama with its odd-looking protagonist as the principal object. Tina (Eva Melander), who works for the customs department at a Swedish port, has the gift of heightened olfaction and can sense offenders based on shame, guilt and rage. At one point in the film, her senior colleague asks her, “Can you sense people for their feelings as well?” Timed around the appearance of a mysterious man who resembles Tina in looks and demeanour, the question makes us delve deeper into Tina’s psyche. Who is she? Why is she the way she is?
The setting is pretty basic. Outside her place of work, Tina lives a listless life in an isolated house near the woods. She shares the rustic home with a gentleman called Roland (Jörgen Thorsson). We are not informed much about their relationship dynamics. The man is fond of dogs and Tina – much like the animals – possesses a terrific sense of smell. They sleep in separate beds and his advances to get physical at one point in the film is callously rejected by Tina. She is also in touch with her father (Sten Ljunggren) who is going through what looks like a derivative of dementia. From the elements that the film offers, there’s pretty much nobody who can inform Tina of her origins.
Once Tina and the viewers are gripped by the curious gentleman (Eero Milonoff) who calls himself Vore, Border begins to take textures of an eerie suspense drama. The original score is intense and as the couple becomes closer physically, the film tiptoes between fantasy and horror territories. There are elements of investigative drama thrown in and are amongst the film’s finest if we take effective subplots into account. The green-blue colour palette is magnificently used by the DOP, Nadim Carlsen, as they elicit spook and hysteria in significant measures. The pacing – sometimes lethargic, sometimes swift – is so aptly laced that you literally feel the commotion within the protagonist’s mind. The film is also minimal on verbal exchanges which makes it all the more puzzling whilst we try to decipher the sequence of events. Impeccable work by the make-up and prosthetic department is yet another area where the film scores as it contributes significantly to making the key players look organic to their surroundings and not other-worldly beings.
Titled appropriately as Border, the film promises a tense watch in the last act. Tina confronting her father on her identity is one that hits you in the gut, especially with the revelation that he makes. Add to it, Tina’s intimate moments with Vore – be it their wild love-making scene or the one where they hide behind a table in fear of lightning – the film makes sure to offer you umpteen chills keeping the protagonists’ peculiarities as the pivots.
Border chooses to end with a bizarre yet unremittingly curious incident. For all the beauty in Tina’s character design, we do not know where her story is headed. In a way, Abbasi is offering closure to her plight. At the same time, the plot thickens further with the appearance of a cryptic box at her doorstep. With all the genre fluidity that the film exhibits, Border makes sure to set in uneasiness as it culminates in a satisfying yet somewhat terrifying note.
Rating: ★★★ 1/2
Author at Filmy Sasi