Who doesn’t love a spy thriller?! In the Israeli film “Shelter”,two women,Lena and Naomi,play a trust game that coils and recoils. The audience responses in kind and is whipped into a tense frenzy that has most at the end verbalizing, “that was some plot”.
Based on the novel “The Link” by Shulamit Hareven, director Eran Riklis focuses on the women’s relationship and all the “Mirrors of the Soul” ( 1965) that Khalil Gibran’s poem elicits: “ Life is an island in an ocean of solitude and seclusion”, “ If I saw your face, I would imagine looking into a mirror.”
The Mossad, Israel’s MI5 or CIA, is shown to have preternatural keenness for insight and strategy. No matter how spy savvy you think you are, this plot will dazzle. Deceiving with lies and false seeming, this agency has trapped us as well. And we have to admire it and the film that displays its ways.
The female narrative is bound with maternal gristle and the idea that everyone seeks shelter in these times of terrorism. Most of the film’s action takes place in a safe house in Hamburg, Germany. Naomi ( Neta Riskin) is a Mossad operative with a back story of grief. Her husband had been killed by a bullet that was targeting her. She has been on leave for two years. Now, she has been asked to use her skills to protect another woman, a Lebanese turncoat of Hezbollah. Golshifteh Farahani is Lena. In her red silk robe and gauze-bandaged face, she oozes loneliness and cynicism. She believes she will be killed. Naomi tries to settle her fears even when wrong phone numbers harass them and a man on a balcony stares at their windows. Naomi, herself using the name Claudia, becomes disoriented on a daily coffee run. The camera circles her and we see her fears in terms of white vans and masked men. She knows how easily “ things get out of control”. Images and sounds of commuter trains racing down tracks heighten this metaphor beautifully.
Two men in a bar contribute to the betrayal theme as one operative says, “ We take care of our people.” Only to have his companion retort that, “ She is not one of our people.” We know this safe house is a poker game, but we do not know the players or the stakes. Meanwhile a bonding birthday scene has Naomi and Lena preparing to say goodbye. Lena kisses Mona and then explains, “ I needed to see how you tasted. Maybe you will stay with me forever. Maybe I will stay with you.” Church bells toll and one bag is packed.what happens next is fast and bloody.
When Naomi’s face is seen on the German news, she flees with a grazed arm wound and the knowledge that she must find Lena’s friend in Cologne. We think we have the ending flushed out when Naomi heads to Beirut, Lebanon, as no less than a computer engineer. Mossad has used revenge as “ a very good motivator” in a Christian cemetery with nuns at chapel prayer.
Just like his earlier film, “ The Lemon Tree” ( 2008), where a Palestinian widow tries to keep her ancestral lemon grove from the hands of the security driven Minister of Israeli Defense, Riklis has used unique human experience to forge relationships that need to be formed. “Life need not be an island in an ocean of solitude.” Nuanced female bonding and spy strategies galore make this a surprising, cynical, and unnerving film. How others are played to get desired results leaves the uninitiated a tad glum, just like most British spy thrillers.