Once again the 26th Hamptons International Film Festival sparked interest and traffic during Columbus Day weekend. Crowds lined up in East Hampton, Southampton and Sag Harbor for film screenings, celebrity talks and special events. The 126 films hailed from around the world. And a number of them had previously won prizes at other festivals. “We are thrilled that these diverse, unique, and entertaining stories resonated with our audience,” said HIFF Artistic Director David Nugent.
Though I screened other films on Friday, fellow movie lovers told me that The Hate You Give astounded them. The Hamptons panel selected Amandla Stenberg as one of their Breakthrough Artists. She and director George Tillman Jr. gave a powerful introduction on Friday night for The Hate You Give. This film screens this weekend. An important film for our times, the film unsurprisingly garnered a post-screening standing ovation. This HIFF Audience Award Winner for Narrative Feature was the only film to receive such an accolade.
My screening coverage of the films included one unique and memorable multiple award winner. Border, “GRÄNS”, directed by Ali Abbasi, received the HIFF 2018 Special Jury Prize for acting for the two lead actors, Eva Melander and Eero Milonoff. Border, selected as Sweden’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, also received a Cannes Film Festival award. The “Un Certain Regard” 2018 prize evinces the striking and memorable elements of this fantastical feature narrative that haunts with ironic, thematic truths. Thus far, Border received 6 wins and 9 nominations. Before it completes its screening cycle, it surely will win more awards. What a novel and extraordinarily compelling film!
Uniquely, the screenplay adapted from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s “Let the Right One” in, mixes fantasy, horror, drama, mystery, romance and magical realism with scenes of uber banality. Screenwriters Ali Abbassi, Isabella Eklof, John Ajvide Lindqvist distill tension and gyrate it throughout the arc of plot and character development. They accomplish this by moving back and forth between static scenes and frighteningly realistic glimpses into the world of eerie phantasmagoria.
Invariably, the mundane static occurs in the scenes of city life. The mysterious environs of the forest, the lakes and streams and “wildness” of nature convey the fantastic, beautiful and ethereal. As the conflict increases and events unfold with fearful intensity, the natural elements, rocks, woodlands, streams predominate. The forest becomes a notorious symbolic playland. The themes speak to rejuvenation and abiding in the sanctuary of nature. This balanced haven is free from cultural conformity, stereotypical, fascist definitions (borders), of gender, appearance, class, and societal strictures.
Gradually, and with great care, the screenwriters reveal the true nature of the characters and lead us to their unexpected, extraordinary outcomes. To the director’s and writers’ credit, their storytelling precision artfully gives nothing away. They lead us to surprise twists, shock, delight and the strange acceptance of beauty in ugliness. The scenes, compactly shot and effected, do just enough to forward the action and suspense. When the revelations come, they unfold in the organic fury of the characters. And their rage spirals into dangerous, increasingly mystical events. Eventually, we understand how the thread of circumstances unfolds in a final overall truth laden with profound themes interwoven with threads of Norse mythology.
Especially in its characterization Border suggests that civilization and cultural norms demean and destroy uniqueness and particularity. And the societal emphasis on the empirical and materialistic nullifies an entire species of beings whose very preciousness is made anathema by cultural mandates. This is superb writing and a superior adaptation perfectly infused by the brilliant, empathetic acting turns of Eva Melander and Eero Milonoff.
Initially, the director introduces us to protagonist Tina (Eva Melander), in her sterile, uninspiring work environment as a customs official. However, as a border agent, Tina’s talents display a preternatural gift of smell. Notably, she targets drug addicts and illegal substances simply by sniffing individuals who come across her path. Her gifts extend to inanimate objects. For example, Tina sniffs out sealed bottles of alcohol.
But when she sniffs a micro disc that has pornography, we note the acute strangeness of this behavior. Tina tells her bosses that she senses and feels the fear and guilt associated with the object. By this juncture in the film, the second and third gyrations of character development have taken place. By then she has encountered a mysterious stranger, Vore (Eero Milonoff). His smile menaces. And he could be her brother in his unusual resemblance. He intrigues her and appears to be the most fascinating event that occurs in her tiresome existence. Also, the micro disc turns up later and ties in all the mysteries of character and conflict Tina confronts on her road to self-actualization.
Succinctly, the director sets up Tina’s lifestyle and environs. And these suggest subtle elements which guide her evolving journey as she discovers her true identity. Before Vore, her monotonous days pass uneventfully in the atmosphereless unit at Passport and Border Control. And her evenings with cute Roland (Jorgen Thorsson), whom we initially believe is her partner, are equally purposeless. She doesn’t appear to have interests. Her lifestyle manifests a disordered order. And though Roland cages fighting dogs on her property which he exploits for gambling elsewhere, she could care less.
Because they don’t have an intimate relationship, though he wants one despite her unusual, homely appearance, we question why Roland remains with her. Finally, during a conversation with her father, we get it. Roland makes little money and must live off her largesse. In a quid pro quo she appreciates companionship. So she allows him to stay in the house she inherited from her disabled father whom she visits in a nursing home.
Ali Abbasi ingeniously, believably sets up Tina’s “quiet life of desperation” emptiness and loneliness to enhance themes. It mirrors the lives that many lead–a circumscribed, hateful existence, defined by nullifying social mores. Also, the tedious monotony sets up the contrast to the new life introduced by the eerie, preternaturally appealing Vore.
Inevitably, Tiny can’t forget Vore’s weird, repulsive attractiveness. This mystery leaves the questions initially unanswered until the end of the film. Perhaps, it is because of her own life of cruel banality and her disinterest in sex with Roland? Nevertheless, we cannot forget a comment a colleague confessed to her when he frisked Vore whose gender appalled him.
So when Tina runs into the sinister Vore in a shopping area and he mesmerizes her, we fear for her. Eventually, this encounter results in an invitation to rent a place on her property where she rents to another family with a baby. Roland, creeped out by Vore, like us, questions why she takes in a stranger. He makes an excellent point for the macabre embracesVore. And indeed, we anticipate that Vore’s wild, naked romp in the woods where he screams with violence and pain signals that he will destroy Tina and the others if he stays. Unless, of course, Tina becomes intimate with him.
There is no spoiler alert. You will have to see how Tina makes her way through the horror and adventure to decide what path she will choose. Does she select a road toward defining her own contentment throwing off cultural shackles in the process? Or does she pick the well-traveled road of futility because she has become accustomed to it? Or perhaps she may be the one to merge both roads to attain a higher goodness?
The ambiguity presents delicious possibilities and leads to a fascinating conclusion. It reminds us that all of us for as long as we live on this planet are immigrants. And in carrying the metaphor of the film one step beyond, we may exist on the border of our own lives until we find ourselves home. Border is psychic dynamite! Spellbinding with suspense, the film remains an award-winning standout that will haunt your imagination, if not forever, for a long while.