Danish-Iranian director Ali Abbasi’s sophomore feature Border (Gräns) is a folkloric movie on monstrous love and what it means to be human. Not so much Beauty and the Beast as Beast and the Beast, Border is one of those films that almost from the first shot makes you feel you are in safe hands even as you go into the dark woods.
Tina (Eva Melander) is a frumpish customs official with a Neanderthal brow and a snuffling hooter which she uses to sniff out miscreants trying to smuggle booze and drugs into the country. It isn’t the substances themselves that she can detect but the reek of guilt, fear and shame that trails the criminals. She lives in the woods with Roland (Jorgen Thorsson), her semi-boyfriend and a ponytailed lay about who keeps ‘muscular’ dogs and is obviously cheating on her. Her father (Sten Ljunggren) is in a care home, intermittently remembering who she is. She seems drawn to insects, moss, bark and wild animals who seek her out on her nocturnal rambles.
Things change when Tina apprehends Vore (Eero Milonoff) disembarking one of the ferries. There’s something off with him – he has some worms in his bag and likes to eat big piles of salmon with his fingers – but he hasn’t apparently done anything illegal. With a similar brow and nose, the two engage in what could only be described as sniff off. And though he is allowed to pass it soon becomes apparent that the two are destined to meet again and Tina is about to discover something about herself that is both terrifying and liberating.
Based on a short story by John Ajvide Lindqvist – the author of Let the Right One In – Border is a grown-up fairytale about self-discovery, evil and love. From Angela Carter to Shrek, outsiders, ogres, werewolves and trolls have been given their own perspectives and allowed to voice the complaint that it is humanity that is truly monstrous. But here the argument gets a new witty twist and the surprises are excellently produced.
Screenwriters Lindqvist, Abbasi and Isabella Eklof avoid explanations and leave plenty to the imagination. It also helps that Nadim Carlsen’s camera gets down and dirty, giving the whole affair a dank mossy feel so that you can almost smell the rain damp loam; literally keeping the more fantastic elements down to earth. And Melander and Milonoff fully commit to their parts, giving them an emotional depth that goes beyond grotesquery. Border is a piece of modern gothic, a far out midnight movie which delivers on the WTF-ery while maintaining a surprisingly big and generous heart.
The 71st Cannes Film Festival takes place from 8-19 May.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty