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Border Con-Troll: Ali Abassi, Eva Milander & Eero Milonoff Interview
Robert Barry , March 9th, 2019 10:17

Border, the second feature by director Ali Abassi (Shelley) is based on a short story by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In) drawing on the Nordic mythology of trolls, about a woman with strange gifts who works in border control. Robert Barry joins the director and stars, Eva Milander and Eero Milonoff

INT. HOTEL LOUNGE – DAY

The scene is the narrow interior of a hotel lounge in Mayfair, West London. Two large brown leather sofas face each other, left and right, across a long, low dark wood coffee table scattered with assorted viennoiseries, mineral water in glass bottles, an untouched bowl of fruit, etc.

To the left sits the DIRECTOR, Ali Abassi, hunched forward, casually dressed, disposable takeaway coffee cup in hand. On the right, the ACTORS, Eva Melander – who plays Tina in the film – and her co-star, Eero Milonoff – who plays the part of Vore.

Centre frame, at the head of the table with his back to the shot, sits the JOURNALIST. He places a small portable recording device onto the table in front of him as we pick up the conversation mid-flow.

ABASSI

I got this coffee and I wanted to grab the cup, but she was like, no, no, because if you grab it now and you pour it on yourself, then I’m liable, legally. So she had to put it on this table, and I would grab it on my own.

BARRY

So there’s a separation. A clear division.

ABASSI

Yes. I don’t know. Maybe she was a lawyer, an ex-lawyer who was now working in a coffee shop…

BARRY

Let’s talk a little bit about the short story by John Ajvide Lindqvist that the film is based on. What was it that drew you to that story in the first place and made you think, this could be a movie?

ABASSI

I wasn’t sure this could be a movie but I thought it was a nice mix of elements that you don’t often see in the same mix. This kind of highbrow literary description of somebody’s soul, or somebody’s existential problems – Tina’s character, her pain and her loneliness and so forth. You see that quite often with, let’s say, highbrow literature. You’re reading somebody’s thoughts, their feelings. Then there’s another aspect where it’s like, and she’s a troll. And then she has a penis. And he gives birth to this strange… These kind of genre, lowbrow elements. It was this nice contrast between these two elements. Also the fact that, I thought – and this, I thought, was a positive thing – there are supernatural elements and plot twists and turns but they didn’t feel important. It felt much more important how she felt. And I thought, if that translates into a movie, that’s a really good thing. Because you have those things, you have the engine, so to speak, to go on, but you don’t lose the characters emotionally.

BARRY

And when you two first came onboard, were you familiar with this story – or with the author?

MELANDER

Yeah, with his writing. Other stuff of his. But not this short story.

BARRY

And when you first read this particular story, what first leaped out at you and drew you in?

MELANDER

[clears her throat] Well, I got really fascinated by moving this story into film, which I knew because I read it before going to do my casting. And I got really thrilled about, how would you do it? How could you translate this world into film and make it believable? I found that really interesting. But of course, in the story there’s – I was really touched by Tina and her way of not knowing who she is and trying to fit in, you know? Just like this unconsciousness of who you are and still blaming yourself for not being able to take part in the world. That was an interesting thing for me.

MILONOFF

Yeah, exactly. The first time when I read it, the very first time, when I got the script, I was thinking – we talked about this yesterday – in these days, when you can see everything from YouTube and everything is so realistic and everything comes like this [he clicks his fingers] in your face, when it’s so, um, so greatly written that there’s these kind of elements from our reality and from another reality, and when they meet, and when it’s well written, there happens something that – you have an emotional crack from that other reality coming in. Because it’s not like, you know, this kind of realism which we see all the time from YouTube or the web or something. From the very first time I read it, I saw it from there and I was very touched by it.

BARRY

Yeah. Just thinking about this figure of the troll in the story. On an allegorical level, who is the troll today? Who, for you, does this figure of the troll represent in society today?

[A pause]

MELANDER

Well – [clears her throat]

MILONOFF

I mean, yesterday, when we were in the Q&A, I was thinking this morning when you were explaining, when somebody asks something a little bit like this or something, for me, good art is always, when you are watching, you get something from there which expands, to touch your life. The things you are handling in the present. So I personally think, when I am watching now the film, they can be, like, those people in my country, in Finland, who is now voting for right wing people because politicians haven’t seen and heard them as they are. And there has been somebody from the right right wing who has understood this and come to them and said, I can see you, I can hear you, and I can tell you who you can blame. So –

ABASSI

That’s actually a really interesting way of looking at it, because usually it’s being looked at the other way –

MILONOFF

Exactly!

ABASSI

Usually people say, it’s the outsider, it’s the immigrant, the foreigner. But it’s actually really interesting to think of it like, this is the yellow vest people in France.

MILONOFF

I mean, I wanted to see it from that perspective, because it’s so easy to see it like, of course, I can say it’s the immigrants or asylum seekers or somebody. But if I think like, now, what comes to my mind when I am watching it, because those are the things I am processing now, in my life, in my country.

ABASSI

You know, I think that, people talk a lot about different kinds of crisis, non-existent crisis, like – I think one of the main points of, when people ask us if this is about the immigration crisis, I’m like, what immigration crisis? Why is there a crisis that doesn’t feel like a crisis, to start with. I think one thing I think about this, is that, ok, it seems like we’re in this special political climate and special things are happening and people are – some are left behind and changing from left to right, you know, this kind of political turmoil, but isn’t it that the function of society has always been to exclude some people?

MELANDER

Yeah.

ABASSI

Because to include other people you have to exclude somebody, and it just becomes more clear because it’s more organised and systematic now. So I don’t think that, I don’t think we’re worse than we were twenty years ago. I think it’s as bad, maybe worse, you know. So in that terms, I also think you can read it like, as a kind of any kind of person in any situation that is on the fringe, and that is on the fringe being a minority, being any sort of not-being-in-a-power-position and having to adhere to a power position.

MELANDER

I also see, when I go back to troll stories, paintings, artists making paintings of trolls, it’s something hard to see, like when you’re walking in the forest and you see something in the distance and you don’t really know what it is and you get scared and worried. Is there something to be afraid of? Is it a big stone or a tree that’s fallen over with all the roots? For me, that’s kind of today’s troll. But that’s just, as you say, it’s always been like that. People have always been scared of what you can’t define. That’s a classical troll myth.

BARRY

And just thinking about the title of the film, is “border” a direct translation of the Swedish word? Or are there perhaps ambiguities that are lost in the translation?

MILONOFF

It’s a straight translation.

ABASSI

I think maybe – and I don’t know what you think, Eva – but maybe “gräns” in Swedish has a little bit more connotation of “borderline” as well.

MELANDER

Mmm.

ABASSI

‘Border’ sounds very much like a physical, actual border, whereas I think “gräns” – I’m not native Swedish, so I’m treading with care now. I think it has a little bit of this connotation of a borderline, of more a state of being.

MELANDER

It’s definitely a word we use for, like mental – this is my border. Like, that’s how you express, I can come mentally this far but I cannot go further. That’s a strong meaning in Swedish.

ABASSI

A limit or something.

MELANDER

Yes, absolutely. That’s true.

BARRY

I mean, what for instance, is the significance of the fact that your character works at an actual, physical national border in the film?

MELANDER

Well how I can think about it is that she is in a position where she can decide. If you’re coming here, we can send you back. It’s interesting that she is so powerful at work. But so powerless outside work. And I think that’s interesting that she is actually telling people where to go and where not to go, but in society she doesn’t know where to go. That’s one thing I like about it.

BARRY

It’s interesting that you have this person who is on the very fringes of society who at the same time has this enormous hypersensitivity. They have access to an understanding that the rest of that society can’t see. In the film, that is literalised through this sense of smell. But it’s almost Hegelian. It’s dialectical.

[A pause]

ABASSI

But it’s also, her function for humans is like a trained dog. It makes a lot of sense for her to be at the border checkpoint and to let people through that border or that control process. The way I see it is like, instead of a human handling that, it’s her. And that’s also part of her position. She’s not maybe fully human, so it’s like, she’s kind of this door or this dog or this thing that humans have got to get through. A filter. She has an actual function there.

MILONOFF

Yeah, exactly. And then the customs, they don’t need an actual – So they save money!

MELANDER

Yeah…

MILONOFF

No, but, uh –

ABASSI

But I am sure that the writer had a great time having all sorts of metaphors superimposed on each other. This is something I discovered at some point, that in Swedish, the border control person is called “gränskontrollant” – gräns – kon – troll –. So there is a troll there. This is not something I am very proud of but it’s there, so I’m like, ok, whatever…

Enter the PUBLICIST who discretely taps the JOURNALIST on the shoulder to indicate the end of his allotted interview time before once more withdrawing, just as discretely.

BARRY

Well, I’m getting the tap on the shoulder. I think that means my time is up. But thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.

ABASSI

Thank you.

MELANDER

Thank you very much.

MILONOFF

Yeah, thank you.

Border, directed by Ali Abassi and starring Eva Milander and Eero Milonoff is at UK cinemas from 8 March

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