The Swedish/Danish film based on the eponymous short story by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In) tells of Tina (Eva Melander) a customer officer, who develops a strange attraction to Vore (Eero Milonoff), the suspect she’s investigating. The case’s revelations soon call into question her entire existence. Abbasi’s film is produced by Nina Bisgaard, Piodor Gustafsson and Petra Jönsson.

How does it feel to be in official selection in Cannes with your second feature?
Ali Abbasi: It’s amazing. For any director, being in Cannes is like a dream. But also, for the kind of movies I make, ie non-mainstream auteur genre films, it’s vital to have the stamp of approval from a big festival. It says that if my film is unusual, strange, it’s in the good sense. The film is a mix of different genres, and I was a bit afraid it could be dismissed as a fantasy movie, superficial entertainment, but I’m pleased that the Cannes selection committee saw its potential.

When we first met in 2011 at Nordic Talents, you had just graduated from the Danish film school and you said: “Films are experiences. You have to feel them in your body, not in your mind but in your spinal cord.“ In what way does this apply to Border?
For me, it’s important that when I get an idea, I go through a kind of quarantine period. The idea stays within me and grows and develops slowly before I start writing the script. I need to be fully immersed into the project’s universe. This is why I am quite slow as a director and I can’t do several projects at the same time or even commercials or videos.

When you first read John Ajvide Lindqvist’s short story, did you immediately feel the urge to bring it to the screen?
 Around 10 years ago, a friend of mine told me about Border. It stayed in my mind. Then I was offered to work on it. I felt that probably no one else would make a movie out of it because it’s a very challenging material. Most happens in the characters’ minds. I also liked the fact that it’s a universal story about identity, but with an edge.

What were the biggest challenges in the screen adaptation and how did you collaborate with John and writer Isabella Eklöf?
AA: Isabella is a fellow director as well [she directed Holidays] who is interested in psychological realism, just like me. The central character being a woman, Isabella was more apt to write intricate details of how Tina should act or react. The major changes we did were adding a crime investigation sub-plot and a darker tone to the romantic story. I’m interested in the dark side of human consciousness, the existential problems that people are facing.

What is the core of the film?
It’s mostly a love story and about Tina choosing who she wants to be, and the experience of being part of a minority. Anyone can relate to that feeling, where your existence is not given, and you have to abide to rules set by others.

Regarding the cast, was it difficult to find Swedish actress Eva Melander and Finnish actor Eero Milonoff for the main roles?
They were simply the best but it took me one and a half year of casting to find them! They are true character actors and went through major physical changes such as gaining 20 kg each! They were literally 100% body and soul into their parts.

Can you tell us more about the work you did with the makeup artists/prosthetics? I think you had a strong team of top professionals including Pamela Goldammer (Harry Potter films, Game of Thrones) and Pierre Olivier Persin (Avengers: Infinity war, Game of Thrones).
We got really lucky. We had an excellent make up designer in Göran Lundström [Genius, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows 2) who designed the masks. Then Pamela and Pierre came in. I told the producers that the whole movie depended on the credibility of the looks and masks. Usually, you have limitations during filming whereby masks can’t be put in water, they can’t be too cold, too warm etc. I didn’t want these constraints. I still wanted the masks to be so good so you wouldn’t think about them anymore. It was a huge work!! Eva had to go through 4-5 hours of make up a day and on the set 5 hours before us all. It was very demanding.

How essential was it for you to film on locations?
For the story to work, both the characters and their environment had to be credible. That’s why it was essential to be able to film in the ferry terminal, the police station, the characters’ houses. I fought for almost a year to get the authorisation to shoot at the ferry terminal. The film is a balance between the supernatural and the mundane and socio-realism.

This is why you define your work as magic realism…
Yes. I started as a writer and I’m very inspired by the magic realism wave of Latin American writers, like Gabriel García Márques, Carlos Fuentes. The most important literary device they use is to combine fantasy and realism. To capture life, and inner life, you need different layers. This is why the dreams, hallucinations of the characters are as real as their everyday life and part of their reality.

What’s the next step for you? Are you interested in working on a larger scale, in English language for instance?
Some of my fellow Scandinavian directors who had a breakthrough with a film, went to the US, and ended up making very average Hollywood movies. I couldn’t do this. For me making a movie is both rewarding and exhausting, as I make each film as if it were the last one, with the same passion and dedication. I couldn’t do something mediocre to do something better after. It’s more important for me to keep my integrity and anybody who will respect that will be a great working partner. That said, Shelley was mainly English-language and English is my second language. I have a few English language projects in mind and some offers. We’ll see!

It will be a genre movie again? AA: I’m not a true fan of horror and genre movies, but it gives me a licence to explore parallel universes. You can talk about difficult subjects, in an entertaining way, when people expect it the least. Genre movies can be commercial and you have to take into consideration the business side of film. 

Films Boutique are selling the film internationally.