Tina (Eva Melander) is a border guard at a harbor where a ferry docks, making sure no one is bringing contraband into Sweden. Tina has an amazing sense of smell. She can smell emotions coming from people. Whether it’s guilt, fear, panic or shame, Tina can smell it. Tina is a unique looking person with a heavy brow ridge, broad nose and ruddy skin. She has a similar appearance to an artist impression of Neanderthals. Tina lives in a small house in the woods with a man named Roland (Jorgen Thorsson). He raises and trains dogs and those dogs don’t like Tina, barking at her constantly. While at work, Tina senses a man has contraband and her fellow guard finds a memory card containing child pornography. The suspect won’t give any details about where the child porn was made police don’t know where to look. They approach Tina to use her sense of smell to find and shut down the operation. Back at the harbor, a man walks through customs that looks similar to Tina. His name is Vore (Eero Milonoff) and he tells Tina he is visiting the city for a few days and staying at a hostel. Tina’s father (Sten Ljunggren) is in a nursing home and is showing signs of dementia. He has told Tina she suffers with a chromosomal defect, explaining her appearance and sense of smell. Tina looks for Vore at the hostel and brings him home to live in a small guest house behind her home. Vore makes Roland and Tina’s neighbors feel uneasy. Vore suggests Tina does not have any genetic defect at all and hints he knows more about her than she does, but he is slow to give her information. Tina has always felt like an outsider, but Vore makes her feel like she’s part of something bigger; but is she also part of something darker.
“Border” is a Swedish film with subtitles. I know having to read while watching your movies is a deal breaker for many of you, but I would ask that you give “Border” a chance. It is truly unlike anything you’ve seen in the movies this year and possibly ever.
Eva Melander plays the role of Tina, the lonely and unconventional-looking woman border guard with the unusual sense of smell. Melander put on a great deal of weight and endured four hour daily prosthetic makeup applications to play the part. Buried under the latex brow, nose and cheeks plus the artificial teeth, Melander must have found a freedom to portray Tina as an otherworldly person. There a raw, animal-like personae Tina radiates throughout the film that leads the audience to believe she has been resurrected from prehistoric DNA found in Neanderthal bones recovered from a cave. Her sense of smell suggests something even more bizarre. Her animal nature really pops when she catches a scent of someone that’s done something wrong. Her upper lip twitches and her eyes become fixed on her target. She’s on the hunt and nothing will shake her off.
Melander’s performance is subtle while also mesmerizing. There’s a sadness and sense of acceptance of her lonely life that Melander emits through her performance. We don’t need to be told Tina is lonely because we see it in her posture and her dead eyes. The only time Tina shows much life is when she is at work and picks up a scent. It’s a shockingly great performance that doesn’t bowl you over with over-the-top emotional displays and lots of shouting. That isn’t to say there aren’t emotions and loud voices conveyed by Tina. As she becomes aware of her true existence, she lets her father know just how angry she is. She tells her roommate to get out in terms that make it clear she’s serious. By the time these events occur, you are completely on board with how she feels and the choices she makes. Melander is amazing in the role and should win every award for which she is nominated.
Eero Milonoff is Vore. He is even more animalistic in the role than Melander. Vore knows who he is and is proud of his heritage. He has a chip on his shoulder and his every action is in service to get his revenge on those he blames for hurting him. Milonoff as Vore has a smile that reeks of evil and probably also of maggots as he is shown picking them off a tree and eating them. Vore is a predator, but he also loves Tina. He wants to show Tina the world she’s been missing because she’s trying to fit in with normal society. Vore wants her to accept she isn’t like everyone else and never will be. He will go to unusual lengths to try and open her eyes to a world she’s never known and get her to join him in it.
Milonoff also had to go through long makeup sessions each day to become Vore. Being covered and almost consumed by a mask probably forced Milonoff to tap into some hidden part of himself, allowing him to find malevolence and a lack of compassion. Vore is involved in some awful things and will go to any length to protect himself, but he will also show compassion and tenderness to Tina. Milonoff plays a horrendous character but manages to be somewhat sympathetic. It is a difficult balancing act that only tips to one side when the full scope of his depravity is exposed. And even then, we want there to be some sort of resolution that allows Vore and Tina to be together. This is more to relieve her loneliness than to benefit him. Milonoff gives a masterful performance as a terrible creature.
“Border” is rated R for some sexual content, graphic nudity, a bloody violent image, and language. The film contains one of the most bizarre sex scenes ever. I can’t say much more about it since it’s a spoiler but, be prepared as you’ll never forget it. We see Tina fully nude on a couple of occasions. There’s a murder victim shown with a significant gash on his head and a great deal of blood around him. Foul language is scattered and mild.
“Border” is a slow burn that requires the viewers patience. It takes its time building its world in the first half then spends the second half destroying it while also blowing the minds of everyone watching. It also isn’t your typical Hollywood blockbuster, or mega-star drama, or action movie or anything else you’ve seen before. It’s worth the time and effort to see it at an arthouse theater or to wait for it on one of the streaming rental platforms. It is a unique experience in amazing storytelling and the art of a couple of surprises. Take a chance and see it. I loved it.
“Border” gets five stars.
This week, I’ll be reviewing “Mule” for WIMZ.com.
Also coming out this week:
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse—
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