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  • Brandon MacMurray

Invisible Border Review



Invisible Border, dir. Mark Gerstorfer, Filmakademie Wien (Austria)


One of three winners of a Student Academy Award this year in the Live Action Narrative category is Mark Gerstorfer’s tense Austrian thriller Invisible Border. Gerstorfer studied photography at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna before taking up his directing studies under acclaimed director Michael Haneke at the Vienna Film Academy. He completed his directing studies at the Vienna Film Academy in the master class with distinction. In addition to his artistic work, Gerstorfer shoots advertising films for TV, cinema, and internet for customers such as Bila, Samsung, and Austria advertising.




Invisible Border depicts a deportation in Vienna taking place under the cover of darkness. Austrian police officer Nancy (Temiloluwa Obiyemi) and her colleagues have the task of evicting the Zekaj family and sending them back to Pristina, Kosovo. The police unit ambushes the sleeping family, telling them that they are without a valid residence permit and that they have ignored a chance to leave the country voluntarily. In contrast to her all-white colleagues, black officer Nancy has reservations, and doesn’t have a good feeling about what she knows is about to happen. The situation escalates when the family’s son becomes rebellious, and the father suffers a nervous breakdown and needs medical attention. The young daughter Fatrin (Natalie Sollak) bolts at the first sight of trouble and hides until later in the film, when she becomes its unexpected main character.

While the performances of Sollak and especially Obiyemi lend Invisible Border a soulful emotional core, the detachment with which Gerstorfer films scenes like the unexpected and harrowing moment where the matriarch’s unexpected action changes the course of the night shows the influence of the Austrian master Haneke and his penchant for depicting violence with an unblinking eye. After a shocking turn, Nancy ends up taking care of the 8-year-old girl, and it is in these quiet scenes that the two actresses are truly given the chance to shine. “My parents aren’t from here either,” Nancy whispers, and we understand her dilemma, torn between her duty as police officer and her humanity toward this immigrant family.



Gerstorfer makes the most of his quasi-documentary shooting style, showing the social trauma of the family and the country at large. Much of the story unfolds within the dull concrete apartment block that the family calls home. The late-night setting uses the dim available lighting of the close-quartered interiors, and the use of handheld camera allows for both a roving, inquisitive eye and intimate close-ups of the non-professional actors. The choice to timestamp the beginning of each scene as it unfolds in near-real time highlights the urgency of the situation and keeps the intense film moving at a commanding pace for its entire 27-minute runtime. This technique and the frantic race-against-time feeling that it imparts also brings to mind another thrilling tale of immigrants taking on agents of the state, Bertrand Bonello’s 2016 masterpiece Nocturama.

All of this year’s Student Academy Award-winning filmmakers will participate in an in-person ceremony on Oct. 24 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, where the winners’ medal placements — gold silver and bronze — will be announced. The ceremony is free and open to the public; advance tickets are required and may be obtained online at oscars.org.


Review by: Joshua Hunt

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