Two gay women returning from a holiday inadvertently bring home a Moroccan stowaway who drives a wedge between them, in Marco Simon Puccioni’s improbable menage-a-trois, “Shelter.” Uneasily mingling personal drama with an illegal immigrant tale, film is banally obvious in denouncing the false compassion of Westerners toward the Third World’s have-nots, an over-worked genre to say the least. Pic finds surer footing in probing the relationships between sharply drawn characters. Building emotional steam as it moves along, it could tally up some overseas sales, with particular appeal for gay audiences.
Anna (Maria de Medeiros) and her lover Mara (Antonia Liskova) are boarding a ferry on their way home from North Africa when they discover underage Anis (Mounir Ouadi) hiding in their car. Anna, playing softhearted to Mara’s tough, secrets the young stranger into Italy and, against Mara’s wishes, invites him to live in their home. She even finds him a job unloading crates in the family shoe factory.
Bizarrely, Mara is a simple assembly line worker in the factory, much looked down upon by Anna’s managerial mother (Gisella Burinato) who runs the company. However carefully this is explained away by Mara’s need for independence, it is just not believable that she alternates between living in the lap of luxury with Anna and putting in sweaty days at the shoe-molding machine. Her fierce hostility to the quiet, polite Mounir is likewise hard to fathom, though Liskova, a Slovakian thesp with a sexually charged, Hilary Swank air, does an admirable job trying to put her puzzle of a character together.
Portuguese actress Medeiros, the only name in the cast, pieces together an equally complex figure, as Anna swings from a Saccharine mother complex toward Mounir to rampant jealousy when she sees Mara opening up to the boy. She gives her best in two scenes, when defending her relationship with Mara first to her snooty mother, then to the old-school Anis, who believes all women need husbands and kids to be happy. It is bothersome, however, that her audibly non-Italian accent is never explained.
With his sad attractiveness and wistful eyes, the nonpro Ouadi is well-cast as the unlucky victim of the tale. One wishes the scriptwriters had spared him the ending, which tears his character to shreds for the sake of a dramatic-looking finale.