If you are looking for a film with a quick resolution featuring an already oft-seen story with predictable themes, twists and turns -- look elsewhere. Eran Riklis' latest 'Shelter' will not provide you with the thrills you seek. But for those of us who need a little thinking with our entertainment, 'Shelter' unfolds at its own pace, to become a manifesto of women's strength in these #MeToo times, and provides a sultry, subdued story that makes watching Riklis' film a true delight.
The outstanding thing about the work of the Israeli filmmaker who brought us such gems as 'Lemon Tree', 'The Syrian Bride', 'Zaytoun' and more recently 'A Borrowed Identity' is that Riklis takes his time to weave his tales. We the audience, carry our own responsibility when watching a film and at no time is this more apparent than during 'Shelter'. As with most of Riklis' previous work, his latest film demands of us the patience to allow the story to unfold, because the director's intentions are always big, beautiful and fair.
In 'Shelter' we are immediately introduced to Mona, played by the beautiful Golshifteh Farahani ('Chicken with Plums', 'Paterson' and 'The Song of Scorpions') standing on a dark beach in Lebanon, in the middle of the night. It is a haunting image taken out of today's headlines, the location like the pick-up point for so many refugees leaving for a better life. Soon thereafter we begin to learn that Mona's life is in imminent danger and with time we find out why and just how much danger she's actually in.
Then we meet Naomi, another casting coup by Riklis because she's played by the extraordinary Neta Riskin ('A Tale of Love and Darkness' and the TV series 'Shtisel') and she's an Israeli Mossad agent with her own ghosts of the past, and present, now in charge of Mona's safety. These unlikely companions come together in Hamburg, in an ominous looking safe house and the place quickly turns out to be far from a shelter for these two women.
By this point, helped by the film's visually dark tones and the women's feelings of uneasiness, we begin to sit at the edge of our seats expecting the worst, but always hoping for the best.
Riklis is a filmmaker who believes wholeheartedly in the power of women. He's made it incredibly clear in 'A Borrowed Identity' how women will end up always saving the day, and in 'Shelter' he takes that perfect theme -- hey, I'm biased that way! -- one step further, through the performances of his two fantastic lead actresses, but also thanks to his supporting characters played by equally extraordinary thespians like Lior Ashkenazi ('Foxtrot', 'In Therapy' and 'Walk on Water'), Haluk Bilgier ('The Reluctant Fundamentalist' and 'Winter Sleep') and Yehudi Almagor ('Foxtrot' and 'Playoff').
The film also benefits from a haunting yet unobtrusive score by Yonathan Riklis, the filmmaker's talented son.
Before I leave you with the touching "Director's Statement" by Eran Riklis himself, which will help you further understand the intentions behind 'Shelter' I wanted to say that for me, the most wondrous aspect of Riklis' films is his approach to religion, and how he always sees it as a vessel, never a destination. His characters live in devoted shades of grey, easily switching between credos to suit the moment and their own souls.
And that's perhaps Riklis' greatest gift to humanity, along with his thought-provoking, touching cinema.
'Shelter' opens in Los Angeles on April 6th. Check out the Menemsha website for more info.