A New Identity
Mossad agent Naomi who had taken sick leave is called back from sick leave and assigned to a “babysitting” job. Now, under a new identity, she goes to Germany to protect Mona, a beautiful Lebanese informant, whom special agents have taken from her country and hidden her in a Hamburg safe house while she recovers from plastic surgery. Naomi soon learns that Mona is very close to a top Hezbollah leader, a man who she betrayed and who is now determined to revenge. During the two weeks the women spend together, they develop a bond that neither expected and it is based on the shared dangers, risks and understanding of loss. But in this high-stakes game of deception, questions of fate may be out of their control.
We see the two women secluded in a lonely apartment for their protection and each is determined to survive. Writer/director Eran Riklis shows the intimacy and tension of the relationship between the two women. The film is both a psychological thriller and an action movie. Thee two women are separated by almost everything in their personal biographies and yet have a great deal to share with personal traumas. Women fighting in the secret wars have no easy time and it is interesting that Riklis chose that idea for a film.
While the intentions and premises are interesting, it took me a while to settle into the plot. Naomi (Neta Riskin) and Mona (Golshifteh Farahani) are fine actresses and their chemistry is excellent throughout. They fill their roles as victims of terror and power that come together in the middle of the great game of the world powers in a small apartment in Hamburg. For two weeks, Naomi must protect Mona against the Lebanese revenge; against the games of the Germans and the Americans ,and the Mossad.
Riklis plays with the rules of genre film and he varies them, plays with expectation and surprise, and above all keeps his film’s tension. Naomi who was already out, on-leave for two years, is reactivated for a small job and she does not even need a gun. Mona sits in Hamburg, having had cosmetic surgery to make at least outwardly another person. But the phone rings, even though nobody knows the number. On the balcony opposite is someone in a red jacket who just might be watching her. She is suspicious of the kiosk operator and of a new neighbor and the janitor. Over and over, the film jumps to the Mossad or to the headquarters of the Lebanese Liberation army, a terrorist organization.
There is a sense of mistrust between Naomi and Mon but there is also the compulsion to be together. Why did Mona betray Lebanon to the Israelis? Riklis gives us scraps of information creating suspense. When the viewer has to know something, when he needs to know more, when he shares the non-knowledge with the characters. Say: when he has to share the mistrust with the characters. This creates a great suspense not only from the characters with their different, often unclear goals, but also because at the same time this threatens the Middle East, where at any time everything can change, coalitions, appointments, diplomatic and intelligence missions.
Riklis cleverly uses the reality of world politics to underpin his thriller. Paranoia is always an excellent basis for a suspense film and if that paranoia is based on reality, then the cinematic thrill comes very close to real danger.
“SHELTER” will open in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre, Monica Film Center and Town Center 5 on April 6. Other cities will follow.