Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eran Riklis
Screenwriter: Eran Riklis based on the novel
Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Meta Riskin, Lior Ashkenazi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/15/18
Opens: April 6 in L.A. before a national rollout
“Shelter” gets its impetus from the world-wide terror situation, a phenomenon too well known in Israel, a country that must be forever on its toes because of threats of intifadas from the Palestinians and isolated cases of bombings in discotheques, coffee shops and everywhere else. Eran Riklis, who sports an enviable résumé of movies that include both psychological thrillers like this current offering and family dramas such as his popular “The Syrian Bride.” You might say that “Shelter” marries the genres of psychological thriller with raw action, but for the most part despite the background of conversations in Lebanon and Germany it’s a two-hander, depending on two women from distinct cultures who are thrown together in a fourth-floor apartment in Hamburg. We become flies on the wall to mostly domestic talk such as the anxieties of a Lebanese woman about a son that she has left behind after being sent to a Hamburg safe house.
“Shelter” is a psychological thriller that is neither particularly psychological nor it is thrilling, and as for action, one can say with kindness that the proceedings are subtle, but that in reality the bursts of energy are neither credible nor sweat-drenching.
After an introduction allowing a conference between Gad (Israel’s top actor Lior Ashkenazi who starred in last year’s “Foxtrot”)
and Naomi (Neta Riskin)—the latter having returned to Mossad after a leave of absence—Naomi is assigned to baby-sit for Mona (Golshifteh Farahani), who is being targeted in Lebanon by Naim Quassem (Doraid Liddawi), furious that Mona has turned Hezbollah information over to the Israeli Mossad and has ordered her killed.
As various people in the Hamburg neighborhood of Mona’s safe house appear to be watching her, as though they received information about her whereabouts, Mona and Naomi get to know each other. But first Mona, who is bandaged after the Israelis give her plastic surgery to change her appearance, tests her Israeli host, demanding that the Israeli act as a servant, bringing her meals and even applying cream to her itchy skin. They chat about their lives but throughout the encounter, Mona refuses to trust her hostess. Her father had always told her never to trust the Jews.
If you’re wondering how Mona’s enemies discovered the address of safe house, well, that will be exposed later on, but the information comes from a source that you’d never suspect. And therein lies writer-director Eran Riklis’ revelation, not one on which any of us can take comfort.
Golshifteh Farahani is arguably the leading actress of Iranian descent. Born in Tehran and living in Paris, she has appeared in an impressive array of movies including my favorite, “Chicken with Plums,” about a famous violinist who, having lost his instrument which he considers irreplaceable, vows to take to his bed and die. Neta Riskin, lesser known to me, has been in seventeen roles, my favorite being “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” which is a biopic about Israeli writer Amos Oz, featuring an absorbing background of the author’s childhood against Israel (then Palestine) when under the British mandate, following up to the birth of the state.
Unrated. 93 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – C+