For the second year in a row, the most outwardly and quietly disturbing film of the Hawaii International Film Festival has come from the nation of Sweden. Last year it was Ruben Ostlünd’s The Square, and this year it is Ali Abassi’s Border. This film was based on the short story Gräns by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also shares writing credit with the director, as well as writer Isabelle Eklöf. This is Abassi’s second directorial feature, and it stars Eeva Melander as the… unique-looking Tina. She is a customs officer at a port in Sweden, and has the uncanny ability to catch suspected offenders of the law. One day, she meets someone who looks similar to her, and the film tells the story of their evolving relationship, as well as a case that Tina is working that she uncovers around that same time.
This is the absolute minimum amount of story details that I can divulge in this review without spoiling what is perhaps the most disturbingly-unsettling film I have seen all year. Border transcends genre, and Abassi’s filmmaking efforts have crafted something unforgettable and cathartic. There are elements of comedy, romance, thriller, and even horror in this film’s script, and the film dips in and out of these extremely-varied tones expertly, helping to keep the audience captivated by where the story will go next. This is as well the most unpredictable film of the festival this year, and even when the story seems to go off the rails, Abassi’s ability to keep the story grounded in an uncanny reality is unparalleled in Swedish cinema.
Much of this is thanks to the fantastic cinematography, which captures rural Sweden in all its lush, green glory. We are treated to long shots of creatures at the top and bottom of the food chain, including foxes, maggots, and Neanderthal-like humans. There is an element of mystery that these shots help convey that make you feel for Tina’s seemingly-cliché plight, but I never thought they were asinine at the time. Rather, Abassi and the writing team utilized these plot points to create the dramatic heft necessary to drive the audience to one of my favorite film endings of the entire year. I am not sure this is one of my favorite films of the year (I would need to see it again to make sure), but Border is certainly one of the most memorable film-going experiences in recent memory.