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Heartland: Borderless

by on October 19, 2015
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"Borderless" (2015), an Iranian film about mercy and kindness in the face of war, is now playing at the Heartland Film Festival.

For Heartland showtimes and tickets, please click here.

“Borderless” is the feature-film debut of Iranian film maker Amir Hossein Asgari. The winner of the Best Asian Future Film Award at the 27th Tokyo Film Festival, “Borderless” is the story of a young unnamed boy living in a war-torn border zone. The border in the film is unspecified, although it is most likely either the Iran-Iraq or Pakistan-Afghanistan zero point borders. However, the specific geography, much like the names of the characters in the film, is secondary to the plot. This film is much more about the commonalities of those whose lives are touched by war, and how those universal truths transcend things such as age, gender, nationality and even language.

The Boy lives in a derelict ship on a shoreline in the border zone. He spends his days hiding from nearby American military patrols while fishing and crafting necklaces out of seashells. He then puts his wares in a plastic bag and swims across the border to trade for food and money at the risk of being shot on sight by a patrol.

Director Asgari and cinematographer Ashkan Askani beautifully depict the Boy’s solitary, silent routine with a number of wonderfully composed shots and virtually no dialogue or musical score. It is clear that this child has lived this way, on his own, for some time as there is an expert ease to his movements that belies the constant danger that lurks just outside the rotting hull of the ship. As the Boy goes about his tasks, it is clear that he has survived through an exceptional combination of resourcefulness, willpower and caution.

The Boy’s cloistered existence is one day interrupted by a young stranger, another refugee from war looking for shelter. The two children scuffle and the stranger appears to have been driven off but returns the next day with an automatic rifle. The newcomer doesn’t want to kill the Boy and doesn’t speak his language, wanting only to be left alone. The stranger soon constructs a crude partition out of rope, dividing the ship down the middle. A tense truce is reached, with sometimes humorous results as the Boy scoffs with annoyance at the stranger’s struggles to adapt to life on the ship.

One day the pair witness bombs and gunfire in the distance and the stranger runs off towards the sound of combat, leaving the rifle behind. The Boy seizes the initiative and prepares to expel the intruder once and for all but is shocked when the stranger returns, distraught and with a newborn infant in arms.

What follows is a touching character study of how two people from different cultures come together out of desperate circumstance, the only common language between them being the fear and pain caused by war. Driven by outstanding performances by the two young leads, “Borderless” wordlessly reminds us of the basic human capacity for mercy and compassion even in the face of war. Despite the constant stories and images we see to the contrary, it is important to remember that often when in the middle of hell, the better angels of our nature emerge and people will set aside their differences for the greater good.

With its lack of dialogue and deliberately reluctant pace, “Borderless” is not for an audience looking for action or intricate plotting.  But if you enjoy an immersive, ruminating character study about the consequences of war, then “Borderless” is a winner.

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