Review: Shelter – Farewell to Eden

Shelter – Farewell to Eden (2019) by Italian director Enrico Masi documents the story of Pepsi, a transsexual activist, and her trek for freedom. Pepsi, as we get to know only one of her eight aliases, represents the many LGBTQ+ who make the trek in search of gender equality, citizenship, and recognition as a human being. Pepsi was born inside a military camp in the Mindanao, in the Philippines archipelago, an island of Muslim faith she had to escape from because of her homosexuality.

Set between Italy and France, we watch as her journey is hindered by the military as they attack the camps. Her lack of funds forces her to succumb to the sexual violence of her fellow refugees including the children (this is completed off camera). This violence is normal, in an interview with The Daily Beast, Jackie Yodashkin, the public affairs director of Immigration Equality, a nonprofit organization that advocates for LGBT and HIV-positive people in the immigration system, said, “LGBTQ people are 97 times as likely to experience sexual violence than non-trans, straight people”. Countries start to close their doors and she says she thinks the United States is her next destination, but she might only be free on the moon.

In the documentary, Masi says that Pepsi takes on the role of a modern Europa, Shelter is a post-colonial parable in which a person in transition is, paradoxically, looking for identity without revealing her own face.

In order to fully understand this movie, director Enrico Masi underlines that it is “the final chapter of a trilogy dedicated to resistance and resilience. Our interest in Pepsi manifested itself in a square in the outskirts of Paris. The impossibility of recording her face led us to construct the narration following the ways of an ancient parable, or a myth. This is why the myth of Europe, with the kidnapping and rape of a young woman that happened on an island in the Mediterranean and performed by Jupiter, in the form of a white bull, has found its place in the heart of the narrative structure. Shelter as a film corresponds itself to a shelter, a safe place that preserves the story of Pepsi, what she wanted to tell us, what happened on her skin. The road that she’s running insinuates through an indistinct international territory, between Northern Italy, the Maritime Alps and Paris, crossing borders, cities, mountains and forests, in a technological Middle Age that overcomes the division between nature and urbanity. Pepsi grew up on a wild island inside a movement of Muslim-inspired fighters, from which she fled, crossing Asia and Africa to get to Europe. Her path becomes a jolt, an emanation of the post-colonial conflict that moves into the slow and inexorable decadence of a great Western empire, in which new world cultures penetrate and assimilate. The story of Pepsi, narrated directly by her voice, becomes body and action following the various territories she has passed through. The absence of her face in the dramaturgical construction elevates her voice from a particular story to a collective song”.

Pepsi is not alone in her journey as you see the other travelers such as children being rushed through the mountains in the middle of the night in fear of the helicopters. Tent cities as you see here in the United States where the homeless live. People drinking out of rain streams on the streets in France is not the romance of looking at the Eiffel Tower. Pepsi represents our story, but Masi also shows the non-LGBT story, the child looking for freedom.

After the world premiere at the CPH:DOX Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, at the Cinéma du Réel International Documentary Film Festival of Paris, and at the BFI Flare London LGBTQ+ Film Festival Shelter was nominated as a candidate title from the Danish festival for the annual Doc Alliance Award for the Best European Documentary Feature Film.

The winner will be announced at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival.

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