Shelter Me
Riparo - Anis tra di noi

Wolfe Video

Marco S. Puccioni

Marco S. Puccioni, Monica Rametta, Heidrun Schleef

Maria de Medeiros, Antonia Liskova, Mounir Ouadi, Vitaliano Trevisan, Gisella Burinato

Unrated, 98 minutes

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, October, 2008

I'll be the first to admit it; there is a serious shortage of films that are strictly about the ladies on Mea Culpa; I guess that makes me as bad as the straight guy who hates "chick flicks." I'm going to try to make up for it, and mix things up a bit more. Starting with this interesting one from Italy...

Bringing back a souvenir from a foreign country takes on a whole new meaning in Mario Mazzarotto's new film, Shelter Me. Anna (Maria de Medeiros) and Mara (Antonia Liskova) are an Italian couple who have just been on holiday in Tunis. When they get back home, there is a surprise waiting for them when they open the hatchback of their auto. A Moroccan lad, maybe 18 years old (perhaps younger), has smuggled himself into Italy, hidden in a large box behind their luggage.

His name is Anis (Mounir Ouadi) and he just wants to work in a foreign country. When he explains how a little help from the hotel's Valet Parking got him to where he is now, a flabbergasted Mara shouts "You paid someone to hide in our car?" He is supposed to be meeting a relative and Anna, who feels sorry for him, helps him get on the right train. She also gives him money and, we find out later, her phone number in case he gets into trouble. Mara is angry with Anna, but relieved that they didn't have to bring him home. "You don't know him," says Mara and insists that he could have killed them. "I didn't know you," Anna replies, warmly remembering their first meeting, "But I let you into my home."

Unless I missed it, the film never makes clear how long the two women have been together but, judging by their comfort level, Anna and Mara's relationship has to span at least a few years. While it is quite clear that they are very much in love, it is also apparent that Anna is used to getting her way and her partner is always the good sport who goes along. One look at the expression on Mara's face, when she comes home to find that the kid is back, and you know this is not the first time she has been imposed upon. It is a tribute to the actress as Liskova's face is a roadmap of emotions in this scene; the look of wide-eyed amazement and shock can barely conceal the seething rage she is trying to keep under control.
Of course, no one wants to come home and find an illegal alien sitting in their living room and Mara hasn't had a good day to begin with. There are rumors of layoffs at the factory where she works. Adding to this tension is the fact that Anna's family owns the factory. The constant presence of Anna's mother, who has recently arrived to take charge, doesn't help matters either... mother disapproves of her daughter being a lesbian and she detests her partner. Mara's father is also dying in a hospital from a stroke and his condition has just worsened. And now there's an intruder in her home.
Anna gets her brother, who tells her to stop trying to change the world all by herself, to find Anis work and lets the kid sleep on their couch. Tensions in the household, that have already been simmering for some time, are brought to a boil by the boy's presence. One night, Anis looks into the ladies' bedroom and sees them lying together and is either confused or doesn't want to believe what he has seen. He thought they were sisters and asks Anna why they don't have any men, naively asserting that a woman should not be alone. When she explains that they are not alone and that they have each other, he still seems oblivious and we're not sure if it is an act. If he was able to smuggle himself into the country, can he be as innocent as he seems? What is clear, is that he appears to be attracted to both of them.
Shelter Me is an engaging movie that commanded my attention but, nevertheless, fails to satisfy its intriguing premise. The story of an enigmatic guest throwing the household into chaos has, of course, been done before; perhaps most notably in Pasolini's Teorema (1968). The whole lead-up to the discovery of a stowaway in the SUV is masterfully done, providing a splendid overture for the acts that follow. Unfortunately, like many of the queer films I've viewed this year, its last act doesn't quite live up to the themes established in the movements before. If melodrama is your thing, then don't listen to me. I've been known to be outnumbered in many of my opinions (I hate ABBA for example) but, as a gay man, I was disturbed by a particular plot twist. But please make up your own mind; a reviewer should guide your decision and not make it for you.
Many riches are there to be mined. In addition to the lesbian angle, this is also a movie about class differences. Besides the culture gap between Anis and the ladies, Anna's family is wealthy in almost a Merchant-Ivory way while Mara is Rosie the Riveter in the shoe factory. Anna is also a lipstick lesbian and Mara is much more the tomboy and rides a motorcycle to work. These aren't stereotypes, they are just two more ways to represent societal opposites. The looks for both women are exactly right; an American film would have exaggerated these characteristics, here they just seem like real people. It helps when the actors' faces aren't recognizable from oversaturated media hype in the U.S., though some filmgoers might remember seeing Maria de Medeiros in Pulp Fiction and also as Anais Nin in Henry and June.

Shelter Me is very European in its look and feel. There is an image of a giant chair in the middle of a roundabout that will probably stick in your memory for a long time afterwards. The cinematography is exquisite and the acting by all is flawless. Think Andre Techine with a touch of Fassbinder. Coming from the Continent, you can also expect very realistic and provocative love scenes, directed with the usual touch of class. It may lack the flash of The L Word, but it is a very realistic story about two women in love who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. This is anything but a conventional paint-by-numbers queer plot and is certainly worthy of consideration.


Maria de Medeiros also appears in:
David's Birthday