Scent of a woman mes­mer­izes

Swedish fa­ble traf­fics in time­less dread as it seeps into your soul

The Province - - ENTERTAINMENT - CHRIS KNIGHT ck­[email protected]­ twit­­film

Tina, the pro­tag­o­nist of this very dark and grown-up fairy tale from Swe­den, is breath­tak­ing; just not in a good way. Lumpy and squat, with a heavy brow and a slop­ing fore­head, she looks like she’s got more than a lit­tle Ne­an­derthal blood in her veins.

But she ex­cels at her job as a cus­toms agent at a sea­side port of en­try, for she has a sense of smell that is both acute and moral.

Writer/di­rec­tor Ali Ab­basi could have eas­ily made this into a po­lice pro­ce­dural, as Tina (Eva Me­lander, un­der a lot of makeup and pros­thet­ics) works with law en­force­ment types who don’t un­der­stand her pow­ers but can’t ig­nore their ef­fec­tive­ness.

But things take a turn when Vore (Eero Milonoff ), saun­ters past her check­point one day. He looks like he’s got the same chro­mo­so­mal makeup. She’s drawn to him, and at one point con­fesses that she al­ways felt ugly. He re­sponds: “You shouldn’t lis­ten to what hu­mans say,” which is a pretty odd sen­ti­ment, even in Swe­den, a na­tion where Volvo crash-test dum­mies are a siz­able mi­nor­ity group.

Vore clearly knows some­thing about her con­di­tion. Even when the weird­est … let’s say trans­for­ma­tion … oc­curs, the ever-grin­ning Vore seems un­sur­prised, know­ing, even smug. Fi­nally she asks him point-blank: “What am I?” We’ve been wait­ing half the movie to hear the an­swer, and it doesn’t dis­ap­point.

Ab­basi, who won the Un Cer­tain Re­gard prize when the film pre­miered at Cannes, seems to have con­structed this fa­ble out of bits of an­cient folk tales and the col­lec­tive un­con­scious of Scan­di­navia. And like 2008’s Let the Right One In — an­other dark Swedish thriller and, like this, based on a story by John Aj­vide Lindqvist — he cre­ates a mon­ster movie that is firmly rooted in the present day, while los­ing noth­ing of its ele­men­tal, time­less dread.

Af­ter the film’s nicely lethar­gic first half, Ab­basi takes to pil­ing on more and more odd­i­ties as the pace quick­ens, the plot thick­ens, and we sense that Tina is go­ing to have to make a stark choice be­tween this dan­ger­ous new­comer and the peo­ple she knows. Border makes for a chilly bed­time story on a cold win­ter’s eve.

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