A weird Scandinavian film about societal problems? Yes, please!

Film Review | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Opens Monday 10

Broadway Theatre

Imagine a fable in the grimmest, most disheartening setting you can think of. Odds are you’ll come up with something like Border.

Border is like a fairy tale told by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (look him up).

In Border, Tina (Eva Melander) is a customs officer who detects criminals trying to sneak contraband into Sweden by smelling their fear and shame. This unusual skill leads to her joining a child pornography investigation.

Tina is not attractive by conventional standards (this is not me passing judgment, it’s a plot point #metoo #timesup #woke). Her prominent forehead, sunken eyes and bulbous nose make her distinctive — a chromosome flaw, Tina is told — and the subject of derision.

Then Tina meets Vore (Eero Milonoff), a mysterious traveller who looks just like her. What follows is organic and, let’s say, surprising.

Border, which is Sweden’s Best Foreign Language candidate for this year’s Academy Award nominations, plays with audience expectations and preconceptions. We feel inclined to discount Tina’s intellect but she’s astute and sensitive. We just didn’t notice because her supposedly equal-opportunity job and life, well, aren’t. Border confronts how society values people in proportion to their physical attractiveness. Hardly an unexplored topic, but it’s treated with skill by director Ali Abbasi.

Despite the prosthetics covering their faces, Milonoff and, particularly, Melander deliver delicate performances. Vore and Tina show two opposite strategies that marginalized people and minorities use against a dominant culture’s hostility: Vore lives a reclusive yet confrontational existence, while Tina — though tempted by Vore’s lifestyle — sticks with her tenuous integration.

With minimal but perfectly placed special effects, this superb film oozes despair but it also shares hope. Border is also very watchable: the film’s allegorical flourishes are carried by an efficient plot. It’s a smart approach that directors like Terrence Malick could learn from.