Film Review: Border (Gräns)

Ali Abbasi’s Border (Gräns) is stark, different and engaging. The film is difficult to classify, which makes it all the more enigmatic. 

Tina is a Swedish customs officer. She has an extraordinary sense of smell, which lands her a gig helping the police. When she comes across Vore, Tina is beguiled by the mysterious stranger…

One of the great things about Border (Gräns) is that it is difficult to categorise. Directed by Ali Abassi, with a screenplay by Abassi, Isabella Eklöf, and John Ajvide Lindqvist (based on Lindqvist’s short story) the film is at different times a mystery, a love story, a crime thriller, and a fantasy. What keeps viewers intrigued is this ambiguity. It is unclear which direction Abbasi will take the narrative, which makes for interesting viewing. 

The main characters are well drawn. Tina elicits empathy from the beginning. The opening sequence of her looking towards the ferry and her brief actions here immediately give the audience a sense of her character. Abbasi here excels at making a statement without words. 

The film has two main strands with Tina at the helm for both. First is the burgeoning relationship with the mysterious Vore. Secondly, there is her extraordinary sense of smell and how it helps the police. This entwine later in proceedings, with certain indicators being laid out as the strands combine.

Border combines some of the grittiness of a crime drama with aspects of fantasy and folklore. This seems a strange combination, yet the film makes it work. The fantasy aspect is impacted the modern setting and contemporary preoccupation. The theme that becomes clear is morality, and Border explores this in an engaging fashion.

Special effects and prosthetics are very good in the film. Eva Melander is great as Tina, bringing humanity and sensitivity to the character. Some of the police investigation sequences are a little plodding, but Border is an original and interesting film.

Border (Gräns) is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

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