Thursday, October 16, 2008

SHELTER ME (Riparo): The Italian film Renaissance continues

Culture clash is just one of the battles fought in the interesting Italian movie SHELTER ME (Riparo in its original language). Director/co-writer (with Monica Rametta) Marco S. Puccioni has filled his film with conflict -- gay/straight, capitalist/socialist, east/west, legal/illegal -- then capped it with a tug-of-war regarding responsibility: Should it go to family, lover or someone who simply needs your help. All this makes for a bracing 100 minutes that are, considering the clash quotient, much less melodramatic that they might have become. (The movie made its American debut at the 2007 FSLC/MOMA's New Directors/New Films program.)

Because the DVD is being distributed by Wolfe Video, attentive viewers may expect, not just the usual gay or lesbian content (the latter is indeed present), but -- given Wolfe's catalog -- a movie that panders somewhat to its clientele. This is absolutely NOT the case with Puccioni's film. The lesbian content is simply a given, albeit a welcome one; the other themes engage equally the director's mind and heart and make his movie into something more rare: a lesbian film in which sexual identification is less important that how these particular lesbians fit into the world and fulfill their part of the social contract.

Three fine performances anchor the movie: from the prolific Maria de Medeiros (above right); Antonia Liskova, who won best actress at the Annency festival and was nominated for the same at this year's David di Donatello awards; and Mounir Ouadi, who makes his film debut. The young Mr. Ouadi plays the pivotal character, of whom we learn -- rightly, given the intentions of the filmmakers -- the least information. He does a remarkable job, one moment looking rather childlike and the next surprisingly adult.

In terms of plot, the film begins so well -- as startling as it is believable -- and continues on this path until around midpoint, when a certain predictability begins to set in. If this make Shelter Me something less than it might have been, it does not castrate the movie. In fact, the filmmakers insist on an ending that, instead of providing any warm, cozy closure, leaves its characters -- and us -- in media res with our conflicts still unsettled but our hypocrisy intact. I predict you will think about Shelter Me well after the final credits have rolled.

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