Scene from 'Border'

Scene from 'Border'

American movie studios only make three kinds of films these days: comic book superhero flicks, sequels, and those “based on” or “inspired by” a “riveting true story.” Border is none of the above, which is why it’s a movie that never could have been made in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

If your initial reaction to the title is an expectation that this is going to be a political screed, don’t fret. We’re not talking the U.S.-Mexico border. The movie is Sweden’s Academy Award submission for Best Foreign Language Film and the border in question is between that country and Finland.

Not that the location of this story matters much. The actual countries involved are essentially irrelevant to the fairy tale being presented. But Border is not the kind of fairy tale you’re accustomed to. I can’t go into much detail without risking a whole bunch of spoilers, but trust me. This is a fable for adults. Leave the kiddies at home.

Tina (Eva Melander) is a customs agent with a peculiar talent for smelling people’s emotions.  This makes her a crack detective when it comes to identifying drug smugglers, pedophiles, and other undesirables trying to sneak past her post.

The early scenes with Tina are striking for how mundane they seem. Her surroundings look like real places rather than movie sets. Within this familiar world, the truly disorienting variable is Tina’s appearance, which I can only describe as Neanderthal. Interestingly, none of her co-workers (nor her live-in layabout boyfriend for that matter) seem to notice, and you begin to realize you’re not supposed to notice either. This is a story about very strange characters in very normal places.

While other customs agents take no notice of their colleague’s appearance, the incoming travelers sure do. Tina aggressively sniffs their belongings while they make rude comments and mill about nervously. Everyone seems to be inhabiting two completely separate universes.

Tina trudges through life until the day a guy who she can’t smell strolls past her post. Now, about this guy; whereas Tina refers to herself as “ugly,” Vore (Eero Milonoff) is working a much more disturbing vibe. From his mouthful of decaying teeth, to his wandering eye (Harrison Ford’s deformed brother?), and greasy scraggly hair, he’s definitely not the kind of lumbering hulk you want to stumble onto after a few beers.

Unlike Tina, however, Vore smiles constantly. He seems to be very happy with his lot in life and content with how he’s received by everyone else. As a matter of fact, he’s so self-satisfied it makes you  squirm a little after a while.

Needless to say, Tina and Vore eventually hit it off and from there things get really weird.

As I said, I can’t go into many plot points because almost every one is a spoiler. I will say that within the movie’s fantastical universe, the filmmakers employ many of the traditional love story tropes.

Tina is essentially a lonely, love-starved heroine—picture Bridget Jones if Bridget wandered out of a cave with a wolf’s sense of smell. Vore is a rebel swashbuckler who strides into every scene as the most self-confident dude in the room, inexplicably self-confident. The specific route of their courtship doesn’t exactly follow the directions laid down by Tracy and Hepburn, but the destination’s the same.

Border is bizarre and disturbing, and I enjoyed it almost as much as Vore enjoys everything. Be forewarned, though. This fairy tale is not Cinderella. It’s extreme in a fashion only European filmmakers appear capable of pulling off today. There are several scenes that might make the more sensitive among you want to stare at the floor until they’re over.

This is the Christmas season and there are plenty of movies currently playing that are designed to bring a highly manipulated tear to the eye. A few of them are even pretty good. Go see one if you like. I promise not to hold it against you.

But if you’re interested in a movie that’s not like anything you’ll likely see before New Years—or perhaps ever again—buy a ticket to Border. And go see it in the theater.  Preferably a very dark theater. Don’t wait for the DVD. It’s just not going to be the same on your TV.  

Now showing at Keystone Art Cinema

 

Dan Grossman, Arts Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at dgrossman@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-254-2400 or on Twitter @nuvoartsdan.

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Ed Johnson-Ott has been NUVO's lead film critic for more than 20 years.