Review by Dan Odenwald
Rating: (4 out of 5)
Tuesday, 10/16/2007, 9:00 PM
Feature presentation, $10 at Goethe Institut Inter Nationes
Italian with English subtitles
A SMALL, COMPLICATED film, Shelter Me avoids the typical mistakes of most gay cinema. Rather than beat viewers over the head with overtly political messages, this Italian film settles for an ambiguous narrative, leaving viewers both intrigued and frustrated.
The plot centers on an attractive lesbian couple, Anna and Mara (played by Maria de Medeiros and Antonia Liskova), returning home from a vacation in north Africa. Back home in Italy, they discover a young Moroccan man, Anis (played by Mounir Quadi), has stowed away in their trunk. An illegal immigrant just happy to get across the border, Anis sets off in search of his uncle, thankful that Anna and Mara decide against reporting him to the police. But Anna, with her soft spot for hard-luck cases, gives Anis her phone number just in case.
It’s not long before Anis is back and living at the couple’s house. At first, the trio resembles a quirky yet loving family, sharing pasta dinners and days by the lake, learning to trust and care for one another. But scratch beneath the surface, and the tension roils. As Anis falls in love with Mara, it’s not long before their happy world unravels.
Directed in a quiet, effective manner by Marco S. Puccioni, Shelter Me is all about the power struggles between the three main characters. Rich and pedigreed Anna smothers and clashes with Mara, her lower class girlfriend. Mara manipulates the impressionable Anis, the illegal immigrant with nothing. And Anis threatens to destroy the life Anna has created for herself and Mara. No one has the upper hand in this strange ménage à trois, but each has the power to un-do the other.
In less capable hands, the film would have certainly flopped under its own pretentious weight. But the acting is quite solid. Liskova shines as the stormy and confused Mara. And the young Quadi turns in a surprising performance as Anis. At turns earnest and calculating, Quadi exudes a depth uncommon for an actor so young.
Shelter Me occasionally drags. Its subtle plot moves can also frustrate. Can so much turn on a gaze? But it’s exactly this kind of confusion that makes Shelter Me such a potent film. It will not satisfy, but it will intrigue. — DO