Thursday, 5 September 2013

BORDER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - #TIFF 2013 - The horrors suffered by the innocent are mostly off-screen, but as such, are even more harrowing as we imagine the fate that faces two women fleeing Syria.

TIFF Discovery Series - #TIFF 2013
Programmed By Piers Handling
Border (2013) ***1/2
Dir. Alessio Cremonini
Starring: Dana Keilani, Sara El debuch, Wasim Abo azan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Of course it's been oft-noted that what we don't see is often more powerful than what we can see, but clearly one cannot exist without the other. What drives a narrative forward is every element used to enhance the journey of the characters and by extension, the audience's participation in said journey. When the issue of self-determination and choice is what drives every element of the story and the narrative itself is set-up in a way where we (both characters and audience) know what conflicts await and furthermore, when the choices, no matter how considered can lead to disaster, we're all the more aware of being in classic storytelling territory. However, what ultimately makes the expected unexpected is the telling of the story from a stylistic standpoint.

Fatima is a new bride. Her husband has gone to war and she lives a quiet life with her sister Aya in the conjugal flat. The sisters are extremely devout and spend a great deal of their time devoted to practising their faith. When news comes that Fatima's husband has left the Syrian Army to join the Free Army of "rebels", they have very little time to react. What they do know is that they will suffer the repercussions of the actions taken by Fatima's husband - actions they are both in concurrence with. Aya is already a survivor of gang rape, torture and incarceration and while she understands what could well await them, she's also wary of the complete stranger sent by Fatima's husband to whisk them out of Syria to safety and freedom in Turkey. Still, there's really no choice for either woman. The actions of a Totalitarian government and, to an extent, by Fatima's husband has petty much removed any vestige of self determination in the matter.

After hurriedly throwing together a few essentials, they are plunged into following a man they do not know through "enemy" territory. The only real choice they make, and it's at great risk to their safety, is that both women refuse to remove their religious headgear which, while on the road, could well give them away. The trip is fraught with several unexpected turns that keep them from moving moving forward as quickly as anyone had hoped. Deception, double-crosses and danger lie around every corner.

When they discover a recently tortured and slaughtered family deep in a Syrian forest, the stark, brutal reality really hits home, but upon finding a lone survivor of the massacre, the women both realize that this might well be the symbolic hope they need to find safety. In so doing, however, they will also have to protect the newly discovered survivor. There are no false notes in Border. The superb performances, the exquisitely structured screenplay (by director Cremonini and Susan Dabbous) and finally, Cremonini's terse helmsmanship of the action creates a tension that, at times, becomes far more unbearable if the story had been presented in some overtly overwrought manner (as might have been the case if directed by an American).

Border is, in its own way, a kind of celebration of self-determination in a world where so much is awry due the war-mongering of men and where every step these women must take might be one step closer to the most unimaginable horrors.

"Border" is part of the TIFF Discovery series at the Toronto International Film Festival 2013. Visit the TIFF website HERE.