Ali Abassi's Border (2018): A Dark Swedish Fairy Tale

Have you ever felt alone? Like you exist and move around in a community of people that you are nothing like?

Imagine how Tina feels. She works as a highly competent border guard, valued for her extra sensory smell. She can smell fear, shame, and any negative emotion on people as they cross through her security area, and she is never wrong about her suspicions. Her work career, however, might be the only thing she has going for her.

She lives on the outskirts of town with a boyfriend that owns a pack of dogs, and from all counts, they live together in a loveless domestic arrangement that is hard to imagine either of them conceiving. Things become a little clearer when we learn that Tina owns the home, and the boyfriend is enjoying the luxury of living rent free. Tina appears to have no family except for the man she calls father, who claims to have adopted her.

Tina is unattractive by human standards and her need smell everyone generates discomfort. She also loves animals, nature, walking barefoot, and being alone -- sometimes accompanied by a woodland creature. Think of her as an unattractive Snow White.

One day, a man named Vore, who looks like her, comes through her security lane, and the two lay eyes on each other. Tina is scared, attracted, and bewildered by this man, and all of this is done without words. We just sense it and see it. The two are drawn to one another. Although initially Tina tries to be blasé about her draw to Vore, eventually she seeks him out and invites him to live in her guest house.

All it takes is the boyfriend to leave for one dog show, and next thing you know, the two are cavorting indulgently through the woods, enjoying each other and the woodland life. But there is more to Vore than what he seems, and Tina finds herself conflicted between wanting to be with Vore and being true to herself.

This movie was beautiful and ugly, mysterious and yet simple in its storytelling. There were moments of such innocence as Tina goes from thinking she is alone to finally understanding there's nothing wrong with her. The abandon -- the bliss -- of finding someone that gets you is full on display.

I have heard multiple people compare the film to Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water, and I have to agree with that comparison, although that's not something I would have come to on my own. That film was much more whimsical. This film was darker, more intense, and more menacing. And while Shape appeals to wide audiences, Border is likely to draw a niche fan base. The aggressive and unexpected sex scene that occurs between the two characters will certainly make an impression, but not everyone will feel comfortable in that moment. This film is recommended for those who enjoy dark fairy tales, and leisurely paced, menacing thrillers. It's a shocking, unforgettable experience.

What resonated:
  • The feeling of being alone and misunderstood
  • The feeling of childlike wonder and abandon when you find someone that is like you
  • The joy of sharing childlike experiences with a love
  • The quiet strength of realizing that even if you aren't with someone, they added something to your life.