The Scandinavians have done it again

#SGWatch4U is our screen review column where we tackle anything from film to TV/Netflix.


In all honesty, we set out to watch Border because of a few choice buzzwords that jumped out from the synopsis: ‘genre-bender’, ‘fantasy thriller’; ‘Swedish’! Further backed by a screenplay from John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let The Right One In), it had to be a hit. In the two hours in the cinema, our superficial hunch morphed into an almost weepy admiration for the pure storytelling onscreen. Border presents a wondrously original tale that deserves all its accolades—a win at Cannes where it premiered, and selection as the Swedish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Academy Awards; proving once again that the Scandinavians are a cinematic force to be reckoned with.

Protagonist Tina (Eva Melander) may not have been blessed in the looks department, but she is gifted with the ability to sense things: shame, guilt, rage. Working at a Swedish border agency, she’s used as a security drug dog, but instead of sniffing out contraband she smells the concealed crimes of offenders and troublemakers. Early in, she helps identify and apprehend a sexual offender, and is enlisted to aid in a deeper investigation of the crime.

It’s probably the most exciting thing going for her; the rest of her time she divides between visiting her ageing father in the nursing home, and a routinely dull life with her platonic housemate Roland, in a secluded house in the woods. The film starts slow, but keeps its audience pacified with those lingering, well-framed shots characteristic of Scandinavian cinema, and enough Scandi eye-candy of the surrounding nature.

Everything changes when Tina’s nose is alerted to a mysterious man at customs—who shares her odd facial structure, but even more curiously, appears clean when searched. Her interest piqued, she eventually strikes up an acquaintanceship with him, and he in turn broadens her worldview in ways she has never known. After a series of will-they-won’t-they interactions, their sexual tension quite literally climaxes in a truly traumatizing act of coitus—revealing a significant plot that will serve to reframe the rest of the film.

Even weeks after leaving the cinema, Border and all its flawless cinematography continue to haunt our consciousness. The film takes liberties in crossing genres (borders?)—fantasy, coming-of-age, thriller—but does it so exquisitely it never feels cluttered or overly ambitious.

At the centre of it all is Melander’s stunning performance as the lonely, complex Tina. Her pain is so universal yet specific, you almost forget that she inhabits an entirely fictional fantasy world. Hers is a journey of self-discovery that will take many sharp turns, but keep you mesmerised every step of the way.

Amidst the fantasy element, Iranian-born Director Ali Abbasi weaves the outsider experience seamlessly in, so that it doesn’t just inform the story; it is a necessity to be able to fully articulate Border. Foundation laid, Abbasi sprinkles a dusting of Nordic folklore, a dash of unnerving horror, and a stunning homage to the great Scandinavian landscape. Nature and the environment are themes that feature heavily in Nordic narratives, and Border fully exploits that for a visual feast chock full of subtleties.

In a surreal full circle moment, Abbasi closes his masterpiece with a return to the same quiet, thoughtful solitude that opened the film; but this time, Tina is no longer lonely. Border, which recently had its Singapore premiere at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival, opened to a sold-out theatre the third night of the festival. If not for the fact that SGIFF (deservedly) spotlights Asian filmmakers, it would have made the perfect opening film.

This is 2018’s answer to a fairy tale—one that doesn’t always have happy endings, but in painting the harshness of reality shows us the things that make us and life beautiful: compassion, love, and acceptance.


Stay updated for a commerical release of Border in 2019 here