Genre-wise, it’s a little difficult to properly label Swedish foreign film Border. The nature of its premise suggests something dark, fantastical, and mature. Now, Drama is too broad of a listing. On its Wikipedia page, another critic uses “Nordic Noir” and “Social Realism”, and while I can find those agreeable, they’re still not enough. Border is a confounding smash-up of genres, of societal themes, and of various fantasy mythologies, making for a film that is equally as interesting as I am personally disturbed by it. There is beauty within, there is character throughout, but also confusion to be had.
The story of Border follows a border security officer named Tina who, as the movie makes clear with its many close-ups and awkward looks, doesn’t look like everyone else. Her features are pretty pronounced – crooked teeth, big brow, big cheeks, etc – which she explains as being the result of some mutated chromosomes. Whatever is “wrong” with her, has enhanced her sense of smell and reason, being able to sniff out criminals as they enter the country. She’s treated somewhat kindly by neighbors and her roommate, but still gets nasty looks of fear from strangers. Watching Eva Melander play Tina under such makeup and prosthetics was incredibly impressive, as she does so with such lived-in vulnerability, suspicion of others, social exhaustion, and a twinkle of wanting. A romantic twinkle that we all share.
I may be speculating, and I may be projecting, but I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between Tina and how individuals with down syndrome or autism are treated. When Tina discovers a man with similar features, a whole world of information is opened to her, forcing confrontations with past and current atrocities, not to mention personal biological discoveries. The man drops lines that suggest she’s more than what she’s been told, that people should fear them, and that her “flaws” are really something special and beautiful. He references mental institution torture and abuses in the adoption system as his own reasons for lashing out at “humans”. The movie isn’t necessarily hitting us all over the head, but it does handle things with a coy bluntness that I found annoying despite its strength in theme.
If indeed Border is trying to say something about the nature of humanity via mythological creatures that personify real-world individuals with disabilities, then there is an inherent ugliness in the very questions it’s attempting to present and/or answer. Some of them involve vengeance, some of them involve compassion, some of them involve primal nature. All of which make up the human race, which people with disabilities happen to belong to, which means they are capable of feeling anything and everything too. I’m going to give the film some credit in being bold enough to draw the line from reality to fantasy and running it all back and forth, but just because of your story being different-ish, just because of your movie being inventive-ish, it doesn’t make it all less ignorant-ish.
Circling these problematic issues like vultures are the spotlighted elements of abuse towards those that are “different” and the central performance of Tina by Eva Melander. While I wish the film wasn’t as hard headed and ableist-lite, the fact that it incorporated modern day horrors in our health and child services brought upon some applause from me. While the conflict in the story is questionable, Tina’s challenges are only strengthened by these revelations. And whatever the movie gets wrong at mind, she revives with her heart, giving a sensitive touch to a role that otherwise could’ve been played for pity instead of honesty. Tina struggles with finding her place in this world and is eventually torn between cultures and identities, but while she grows, she never really loses sight of who she has become. And that is anchored so well by Eva’s subtle eye movements and lip quivers, not to mention her quiet spoken yet loudly received speeches.
Being cheeky, I’m on the border with Border. For all of its beauty and romance in self-discovery, it falls victim to starting from and ending at a silly place when it comes to Tina and what she represents. It treats her with truth in how she’s seen but questions her very being as if she’s less than human to begin with. It’s just oh so odd. An oddity, this is. How best to feel? I’m not sure. Re-watch?
RATING: 2.5 / 5
Border plays at Zeitgeist starting Christmas Day.