The border between Bulgaria and Romania seems more permeable after “Shelter,” Dragomir Sholev’s chamber piece, co-scripted by the standard-bearer of new Romanian cinema, Razvan Radulescu. Largely shot in long takes that also seem to derive from Bulgaria’s Balkan neighbor (perhaps by way of “Elephant”), the pic fleshes out its theme — that family intimacy is no guarantee of mutual understanding — via a 12-year-old in need of a sound spanking. Sholev’s novice status is all too apparent, though his overreach indicates some talent. “Shelter” could find sanctuary in small fest sidebars.
Radostin (Kaloyan Siriiski) isn’t the only one in need of a good thrashing: Even the most non-violent viewers are likely to harbor similar urges toward nearly every character, and occasionally the cameraman. Water polo coach Emil Stoychev (Cvetan Daskalov) arrives home Monday morning after an away game to discover his son, Radostin, never came back from a Friday night sleepover. Emil and his wife (Yanina Kasheva) file a missing-persons report, but when they get back from the police station, they find the kid in his room, with the music blaring and a young woman exiting the shower.
Radostin shrugs off their stress: Dad is furious, while Mom is just happy he’s back. He casually presents his new pal, Courtney (Silvia Gerina), a punked-out Goth with tattoos and facial piercings, while Mom busies herself in the kitchen to make a nice dinner for her son’s wildly inappropriate friend. When mohawk-sporting Tenx (Irena Hristoskova, playing male) shows up behaving in ways that would send Miss Manners into convulsions, Emil loses his temper and Radostin ankles with his new buds.
Radulescu’s mark on the screenplay is instantly identifiable, from the naturalness of the dialogue (which generally leads nowhere until some outburst breaks through the banality) to the snide remarks of semi-authority figures to the minor, near-constant quibbles between out-of-sync couples. Unfortunately, no one here is especially sympathetic, and the shock both parents seem to feel on discovering their kid is a grade-A brat is hard to believe, given the general sense of verisimilitude.
“Shelter” is filmed mostly in impressively fluid, handheld long shots, but it’s not subtle; after passing by a group of men handcuffed to the wall of a police corridor, it backtracks in imitation of a p.o.v. shot that feels too insistent on making sure auds notice. At other times, the camera seems merely lazy, cutting off heads and other features as if it can’t be bothered to look up — as indolent, it can be said, as Radostin and his teenage friends. Clearly, Sholev, with a solid background in commercials and music videos, enjoys what the camera can do, but too often his choices feel designed to call attention themselves; they’re generically clever but have no real function.
Unlike most new Romanian films, “Shelter” contains incidental music, though the sparse, deep tones don’t jive with what’s on screen. Opening and closing with snatches of Morphine’s 1993 “The Saddest Song” proclaim the pic’s coolness but not much else.