Film Review: BORDER (GRANS) (Sweden/Denmark 2018) ****

Border Poster

A customs officer who can smell fear develops an unusual attraction to a strange traveler while aiding a police investigation which will call into question her entire existence.


Ali Abbasi


John Ajvide Lindqvist (based on the short story “Gräns” by), Ali Abbasi (screenplay)| 2 more credits »

The hit at Cannes, BORDER is likely the weirdest film to emerge in cinemas this year.  And it is totally unpredictable even with a feel-good romantic element despite the ugliest looking characters in a film.

BORDER is a film about changelings.  This is not apparent till the last third of the film, so how the film gets there is a good part of the story’s mystery, which will not be revealed in the film.  A changeling is a creature found in folklore and folk religion.  A changeling child is believed to be a fairy child that had been left in place of a human child stolen by the fairies, and is perceived as an ugly creature.

But the film is entitled BORDER, because the film’s protagonist is a border customs officer, and one very good at her job owing to a unique ability. Tina (Eva Melander) has a bestial-looking face, a scar above her tailbone.  Her ability is sensing how people feel though smell.  She is especially adept at detecting fear or unease (sex, hilt and shame), skills that make her an invaluable border guard.  Nobody likes a border guard, especially when they get caught cheating customs by one, and especially more if the officer is as ugly as Tina.  “Ugly bitch,” is what one caught curses under his breath for attempting to sneak though above the limit alcohol.

Yet Tina’s latest customs stops are more troubling than the usual routine arrests. First, there’s the twitchy businessman carrying child pornography, whose crime so enrages Tina that she begins to take foolish risks when she’s brought in to help with the investigation. 

But her life changes when she meets a suspicious Vore (Eero Milonoff), who shares physical traits with Tina (being ugly and sort of a look-alike),  Vore wears a permanent cocksure smirk that suggests he knows things she does not, which the film reveals later on to be true. 

A sample of the weirdness includes consumption of maggots, uncomfortable sex scenes and very odd mannerisms (facial twitching and grunting) of the characters.

The cinematography by Nadim Carlsen is stunning, especially the scenery around where Tina lives.  The dark water of the pool, waterfalls and forest greenery are something right out of a fairy tale.

Excellent performances by both Milonoff and Melander complete the honours in the acting department.

The film contains some acute observations (not not necessarily a life lesson or message) on life.  One is that like Tina, not matter how weird, she thought herself special as a child.  Beautiful things can also happen to someone as unfortunate as Tina.  Tina chooses good over evil.  The film demonstrates that anyone including any human being or monster is capable of both.  There should be no prejudices.

Though extremely weird, the story is based on a short story by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist,  Border conjures up memories of unsettling folk tales that tie humans to the natural world and its odder anomalies, a world that now seems distant yet creepily familiar.  

BORDER won its director Abbashi the Best Director Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at this year’s Cannes.  The film has also been winning awards in festivals around the world.  The film is a must-see.  I have seen it twice, though the film loses its surprise element the second time viewing.



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