Neely Swanson

“Shelter” – Us [MOVIE REVIEW]

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“Shelter.” Naomi (Neta Riskin) and Mona (Golshifteh Farahani) sit in the doorway of their Hamburg safehouse. Copyright Eitan Riklas.

by Neely Swanson

“Shelter,” advertised as a subtle thriller suffers from a bit too much subtlety. Eran Riklis, the director/writer of “Shelter,” attempted, with this film, to integrate the contradictions in the meaning of shelter. Shelter implies protection and safety but his film illustrates the illusory nature of such a thing.

Mona, a Lebanese woman who provided valuable information to the Mossad on the leader of a terrorist organization, is a hunted woman. Hiding in Hamburg, Germany, she has undergone plastic surgery and been given a new identity—but she still has two weeks of recovery left before she can start a new life. And a massive search is on for her location.

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Naomi, a young but experienced Mossad agent, has been given the task of babysitting Mona for the last two weeks of her recovery.  They warily get to know one another. Both realize that the clock is ticking. Will Mona be spirited away or will her former Hezbollah lover be able to track her down with his network of Western and Middle Eastern spies?

All the elements for a thriller are there. Scorned or vengeful woman who struck back at her terrorist lover for reasons that are murky; an international manhunt (or femme fatale hunt, as she spends most of the film parading in lingerie) by a terrorist organization; spy vs. spy. Her babysitter, recovering from a personal loss, is annoyed at an assignment seemingly so innocuous. There are dangers around every corner, including betrayals from unexpected sources. The framework for the story is clearly present. Where could Riklis go wrong?

“Shelter” suffers from a poorly elaborated plot and a dreadful script that is directed at a glacial pace with editing you could drive an armored tank through. A combination of deadly dialogue, no pacing, incoherent fantasy flashbacks, and deadpan acting makes one desire a resolution long before one arrives, to the point where life or death becomes as inconsequential as the bonding between the women. A subplot involving Naomi’s efforts at becoming pregnant is a true head-scratcher.

It is possible that the women who play the leads may be better than what they have been given to work with. Unfortunately, neither rises above the material. Neta Riskin, Naomi, is an actress all of whose credits are restricted to Israeli television and film projects. Goldshifteh Farahani, Mona, is an award-winning Iranian actress with a more international palette, making the flatness of her performance in this film something of a mystery.

That all the Israelis are heroic and everyone else is suspect may account for the ecstatic review “Shelter” received in The Jerusalem Post. I do not share their enthusiasm.

In English, Hebrew, Arabic, and German with English Subtitles.

Opening April 6 at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts, the Monica Film Center, the Townhouse 5 in Encino, and the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.

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