Shelter: Farewell To Eden


Reviewed by: Sunil Chauhan

Shelter: Farewell To Eden
"You get the sense Masi wants Pepsi to be a pivot for the issues engulfing modern Europe, but in the process he often loses sight of her own story." | Photo: Courtesy of BFI Flare

Italian helmer Enrico Masi’s Shelter – Farewell to Eden is ostensibly about Pepsi, just one of the aliases for an undercover trans Filipino woman in Italy, but it’s a film with its eye on bigger issues, using Pepsi as a sort of compass to move through broader talking points.

Escaping a Muslim military camp where she had to hide her homosexuality before working as a nurse for over a decade in Gaddafi-led Libya, Pepsi landed in Europe, travelling through France, the UK and Italy, eventually transitioning. You get the sense Masi wants Pepsi to be a pivot for the issues engulfing modern Europe, but in the process he often loses sight of her own story.

Filmed mostly in tracking shots from behind, Shelter trails its subject, lending the film an air of obfuscation. We’re led to presume Pepsi is hiding her face out of fear, though equally it helps imbue the film with a patina of mystery, one in line with its quiet political anger.

Switching between 16mm film, analogue video and iPhone footage, there are many beautiful images in Shelter. At times, you wonder if Masi is channelling Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quattro Volte, such is the frequency of tranquil moments detailing livestock, water and snow. Spliced in between, we see refugees in tents under bridges, shunted out of sight, juxtapositions that ram home a jarring vision of two Europes, suggesting perhaps that with so much empty land, the European fortress still has space for newcomers.

Throughout, we hear non-diegetic narration by Pepsi, offering brief opinions on everything from trafficking and environmental destruction to the effects of colonialism on the world’s resources and the idea of migrants entering western Europe to reclaim an owed debt (“You colonise the country but we occupy also by refugee means”). Credit should be given to Masi for attempting to grapple with hot-button topics, but he spreads them too thinly, also sketching too lightly the story of his central character. Perhaps she proved as elusive as this film seems to hint, or maybe Masi had other matters on his mind.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2019
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The thoughts and life of Pepsi, a transgender woman born in the Philippines, now living in Italy.

Director: Enrico Masi

Writer: Enrico Masi, Stefano Migliore

Starring: Pepsi, Catherine Wihtol de Wenden, Gabriel James Patiag

Year: 2019

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Italy, France

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