September 21, 2018

Spies Take ‘Shelter’ in Twisty Israeli Thriller

Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis (“The Lemon Tree,” “The Syrian Bride”) read the short story “The Link” three decades ago and couldn’t forget it. He bought the rights in 2012, adapted and updated it, and the result is “Shelter,” a thriller about two women on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The film stars Israeli actress Neta Riskin as Naomi, a Mossad agent tasked with protecting Lebanese informant Mona (Golshifteh Farahani) in a Hamburg safe house while Mona recovers from plastic surgery to conceal her identity.

In a Skype interview with the Journal, Riklis described “Shelter” as “Two women, one main location that protects them but also traps them, an intense world outside the safe house and a complex plot full of twists and turns. It’s an intimate story wrapped in a thriller format,” he said. “It’s about the loneliness these two women share … and the way their personal stories represent a universal set of questions about loyalty, betrayal, honor [and] history.”

Riklis cast Lior Ashkenazi, a longtime acquaintance he’s wanted to work with for years, in the small but pivotal role of a senior Mossad agent. His son, Yonatan Riklis, composed the music for the film.

For Riskin, “Shelter” was “a unique oppor-tunity to lead a film,” one that’s specifically about women, with a compelling character in Naomi, she said via email.

“[Naomi’s] an introvert character in post trauma that needs to convey her story, character, history, and go through a change, mainly through listening to [Mona], who is her opposite,” Riskin said.

Best known for the Israeli TV series “The Gordin Cell” and “Shtisel,” Riskin became an actress “for the chance to be anyone, live different lives at different times.”

Although she played an Orthodox woman in “Shtisel,” Riskin is not religious.

“I see myself as a secular Israeli,” the Tel Aviv-born actress said. “I know Jews abroad try to keep their Jewish identity as much as possible. It is different in Israel. Either you’re religious or secular. ”

Riskin’s father is a Holocaust survivor, “and of course that affected my whole life and my choices,” she said. “But the Holocaust and Judaism are two different subjects. My father came from a family that had very loose connections to Judaism. This didn’t help them in the Holocaust, but also didn’t make them more close to religion.”

Like Riskin, Riklis describes himself as a “totally secular” Jew. Of Eastern European heritage and a 10th-generation descendant of the Ba’al Shem Tov, he has always felt “connected to Judaism … being secular is just as strong as being a believer since it’s all about being a good person or not,” he said.

As a boy, Riklis made 8mm films with his father and found that it combined his interests in literature, theater, choreography, music, architecture, science and art. He has five projects lined up and is currently shooting the thriller “Spider in the Web” in Europe. It stars Ben Kingsley as “an aging Mossad agent with something to prove,” Riklis said.

“All my stories focus on ordinary people in extraordinary situations. I paint a rich picture, and I let the audience take it to wherever it wants to take it,” Riklis said. “But like any storyteller, I am also good at manipulating the audience into taking a roller coaster ride with me.”

“Shelter” opens April 6 at the Laemmle Town Center 5, Monica and Ahrya Fine Arts theaters; and April 7 at the Laemmle Playhouse 7.