Simon (Richard Edson) doesn’t get out much. What better way is there to explain how the grouchy and rigid owner of E-Z Pawn reacts to Anna’s (Lorie Marino) repeated visits to his Spanish Harlem shop? First, he impulsively asks her out to dinner…then promptly asks her to marry him. On their first date. Who says life in New York City isn’t fast-paced?
Perhaps even stranger than Simon’s abrupt proposal is Anna’s acceptance. Without a job and apparently selling off mementos to Simon’s store to survive, the mysterious beauty is clearly in need of some stability and maybe even a roof over her head. Yet, as “The Shade” unfolds, the friction these two wary and suspicious strangers generate as they try, with help from Simon’s mother (Barbara Haas), to build their lives together from scratch threatens to destroy the dour newlyweds, even before Anna learns of a dark secret from Simon’s past.
Based on Dostoevsky’s short story “A Gentle Creature,” “The Shade” is a somber film of rarely relieved impending doom. With a chilly and humorless Russian/Jewish pawn shop owner and an oddly vacuous, if attractive woman who’s one step away from homelessness as lead characters, it should come as no surprise that this stripped down drama from Raphæl Nadjari is as grim as it is.
Stripped down is one thing. “The Shade,” however, is pretty much gutted to the bare bones. As a result, this deceptively simple story has been stretched and padded out so much that its scanty 76 minute running time feels much, much longer. Which is doubly unfortunate, since there are a number of disorienting gaps in the narrative that could have, should have been bridged. If they had been, these gaps, both in the characters’ actions and in their motivations for those actions, could have made “The Shade” a much more powerful film. Instead, Nadjari has deliberately, one supposes, left us with a sluggish, maddeningly sketchy tale; one that leaves behind as many questions as it answers.