'Border' opens CMU International Film Festival

If the goal of an international film festival is to push the envelope and expand our horizons, prepare to be pushed and expanded by this year’s lineup at Carnegie Mellon University, starting with the bizarre kickoff movie on Thursday.

One of the 2019 “Faces of Wo/Men” fest’s themes is that neither the face nor the gender you’re born with is necessarily the one you’d have assigned yourself. That’s certainly true of Tina, the Swedish customs officer who’s the heroine of “Border.” She has a scary, mannish, almost animal-like, expressionless face that prompts revulsion in everyone who sees her.




Starring: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff.

Rating: R for sexual content, graphic nudity, a bloody violent image, and language.

But she also has the uncanny ability to sense — actually, to smell — how people feel. She’s especially adept at detecting fear and guilt — highly useful occupational skills for which she is recruited to help in a child-pornography investigation.

Off the job, Tina communes happily with nature and wild foxes and elk but not so happily with human beings, including her sponging housemate Roland (Jörgen Thorsson), who’s devoted only to his nasty show dogs.

On the job, she encounters Vore, a guy with a creepy smile and frightening facial traits virtually identical to her own. He’s carrying a “larvae hatcher.” A relationship develops. He has information about a certain shared chromosome flaw that could change both of their outcast lives.

“I’m deformed,” she laments.

“You’re perfect,” he replies.

A heavy-duty sex scene more or less confirms both.

Vore is a man of strong views and unusual tastes.

“Humans are parasites that use everything on earth for their own amusement — even their own offspring,” he declares. “They are afraid of us. And they should be.”

Only a belated reference to Finnic mythology will explain the “us.”

As for the unusual tastes? Well, he’s not carrying that larvae hatcher around for nothing.

Directed by Ali Abbasi, “Border” is based on the short story “Gräns” by John Ajvide Lindqvist, a kind of morality-tale allegory with dark “Nordic noir” sensibilities. It was Sweden’s official entry to this year’s Oscars and also nominated for best makeup.

Speaking of which: As Tina, actress Eva Melander labored beneath a deforming latex mask and a four-hour daily application of other prosthetic disfigurements — jutting forehead, feral teeth, blotchy skin, etc. Her performance is terrifically real and sympathetic under any circumstances, but especially those. Finnish actor Eero Milonoff is similarly constructed and similarly effective as Vore.

This is a strange, fantastic mix of romantic drama, magic realism, Stephen King horror and crime thriller. Reminded me a little of “Eraserhead.” A cult-classic-to-be, with a touch of “Rosemary’s Baby.” Modern Gothic, with a humanist heart.

But definitely not for Aunt Thelmah. She’ll be better off staying home, alone.



7 p.m. “Border” at CMU’s McConomy Auditorium, with Q&A with University of Pittsburgh professors Dana Och and Jeff Aziz and opening night reception, $15/$10 students.


7 p.m.: “My Friend the Polish Girl,” at McConomy, with Q&A with directors Ewa Banaszkiewicz & Mateusz Dymek, $10/$5 students.


5 p.m.: “Sofia” at McConomy, $10/$5 students;

7 p.m.: Polish-Angolan animated documentary, “Another Day of Life,” with Q&A with animator Dominik Wawrzyniak and reception, $10/$5 students.


3 p.m.: “Rafiki,” at McConomy, $10/$5 students;

6 p.m.: Canadian live-documentary “What Is Democracy?” screening at City of Asylum, North Side, free.

For full information on the films, screening times, locations and ticket prices, visit the festival website at: www.cmu.edu/faces/index.html.

Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris: parispg48@aol.com

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