“Shelter”

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.

“God’s Slave” ( ” Esclavo De Dios” )

The Indianapolis Jewish Film Festival’s third season is wrapping up this week, and I sincerely hope it garners more support than was represented by the forty attendees at Thursday presentation of the haunting film “God’s Slave”. The film’s core hinges on the roots of terrorism and the extremist acts carried out in the name of religious conviction. The film is centered on a true event, the 1994 bombing  of a Jewish synagogue in Buenos Aires. It was  Argentina’s deadliest bombing, and it prompted the closing of its borders to protect the sixth largest concentration of Jews in the world. Israel sent Mossad  agents, counter-terrorism operatives, to investigate.

The film director, Joel Novoa, ( son of Director Joseph Novoa) uses taut action and underplayed emotions to intertwine the stories of Ahmed and David. Both Arab and Israeli have suffered childhood trauma. The psychological realities of this are underscored in a beautiful script by Fernado Butazzoni. Two personal tragedies and parallel paths to martyrdom balance the madness. Though there is one scene where the Muslim sleeper-cell is enjoying the  finger-licking goodness of hummus while watching a tv re-play of their destruction. Their sporting cries of “we crushed the Jews” is ghastly. But then, the  Muslims believe that this life is ” just a translation”. For the Jews, ” l’Chaim”: this  life is it.

In ” God’s Slaves” backstories are as important as the philosophy of belief systems.

We begin in 1975 Lebanon ; Ahmed is eight. He looks at his father and asks, “No lamb, today?” His father rejoins with ” If it is not from Allah, we don’t want it.” Shortly, his father is labeled a traitor, and slaughtered in front of him as Ahmed partially hides behind a sofa. You will not forget his eyes or his voice saying “papa”. Ten years forward and we see Ahmed on a plane. He is going to Caracas where he is to find a girl, get married, have children, and wait for the call.

David Goldberg at 14 has seen his father blown away in a street cafe. For David there can not be another suicide bomber or another terrorist attack. The smoke and screams linger. David’s mantra is that “It is always good to remember.” Remember and memorize he does with the facts and the faces of every would be assassin. He cross references passenger lists and practices a Jeopardy-like game using a board of over nine hundred faces, artifacts and  atrocity stats. He keeps every detail in his head. “It is always good to remember”.

The two opponents are set-up. Both have wives and a child. Both read their Holy texts: the Koran , the Talmud. We as viewers know there will be a connection. We know what they both are capable of- David has threatened to kill the nine-year- old grandson of an informant if he doesn’t disclose names. The demoted David oversteps and kills the informant anyway, coldly stating “he was involved.”

Rooftop chases, acrobatic jumps, keep the tension high.Two men are on their own missions defined by their own circumstances. Children are the reoccurring    motif. When we see a young child in the street refusing to move, we think we have an ending on a humane note. Ahmed, as Javir, experiences an epiphany.  The man of healing ,who has betrayed  his wife for the cause, now rejects his role.

David  follows Ahmed in hopes of taking down the entire cell. He knows ” they will take care of their own traitors”. Javir will be spat upon, killed and filmed . Both David and Ahmed have a gun. Ahmed lays his down, but will David ?  Does  it matter ?

The ending is a stunner and a reality call and profoundly sad. Another pre-teen  Arab boy  sees his dead father ( the same man who killed Ahmed’s papa for being a traitor ), and this seven -year -old literally and metaphorically picks up the sword.

Marian University’s political science professor Dr. James Atlas’ remarks preceded the viewing and highlighted the fact that “terrorism” is difficult to define. Twenty years since this attack, there is still no universal definition. 192 nations within The United Nations can not concur. The U.S. Legal code mandates three components in its definition:  unlawful, indiscriminate violence targeting civilians for the objective of social change.

Atlas’ mini-lecture on terrorism as the weapon of the weak helped set the tone for ” God’s Slave”. As a strategy of populace incrimination, terrorism will always be with the world, like crime will always be with the world. But the evolving nihilism of terrorism can be stopped. This film shows how~ through human connection.