If ever there was a film that was perfect for Fantastic Fest, it would be Border, from Swedish director Ali Abbasi. Written by Isabella Eklöf, adapting from a story by John Ajvide Lindqvist (the same formula that gave us Let The Right One In) Border is too smart and weird for the mainstream and not quite capital D Drama enough for the arthouse. Fantastic Fest bills itself as the world’s biggest genre film festival, but it’d be hard to pin Border to any existing genre. It’s not quite horror, crime, or comedy — it really just is “fantastic,” in every sense of the word.
You probably shouldn’t know that much about Border before you see it. What I can tell you is that it’s rare and humane and wonderful and more than a little twisted, with an unforgettable gender-bending sex scene that somehow manages to be simultaneously hilarious, touching, and kind of gross (like all sex, really).
Eva Melander, with the help of some solid FX work, plays Tina, who looks like the Geico caveman, is obsessed with bugs, and can’t seem to get along with her boyfriend’s prize rottweilers. Tina works at a border crossing and has a rare talent for sniffing out people trying to smuggle booze (if they’re underage), drugs, or child porn. And I mean literally sniffing. It seems Tina works as some kind of human sniffer dog. Only it’s not the drugs or the contraband itself she can smell, it’s the attendant fear and shame.
The entire movie essentially consists of the slowly unraveling mystery of who and what Tina is, and the patience with which Abbasi lets this play out, while tantalizing us with clue after clue, is masterful. And yet as fun as the journey is, we do get a clear answer (part of why I don’t want to spoil it), which turns out to be every bit as satisfying as the question, if not more so. There are few things as cathartic as watching someone become what they were always meant to be, to truly know themselves, and that turns out to be just as true for humans as it is for… well, whatever Tina is (can’t tell ya, sorry!).
Border has the wry playfulness and clear-eyed strangeness of Lars Von Trier, but somehow more earnest, and more empathatic. It’s truly something special.