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The Bubble

September 29, 2015

TBThe Bubble (Hebrew: הבועה HaBuah) is a 2006 romantic drama directed by Eytan Fox telling the story of two men who fall in love, one Israeli and one Palestinian. The title of the film refers to Tel Aviv, a relatively peaceful city in a tumultuous region and the setting of the film.

Noam, a young Israeli reservist working at a checkpoint while on reserve duty, is crushed when he witnesses a Palestinian woman giving birth to a dead baby; he also locks eyes with a young Palestinian man there, Ashraf. He then gets back to Tel Aviv as he has finished his military service. There he shares a flat with another gay man, Yali, and a woman, Lulu, who works in a soap shop. The three roommates live a generally bohemian life.

Ashraf arrives at the apartment to return Noam’s passport, which he had dropped and left at the checkpoint. Noam takes Ashraf to the roof to look at the city skyline. They talk and Ashraf kisses Noam and they spend the night together. Soon it is agreed that Ashraf will move in with them and work in Yali’s restaurant as a Jew under the name Shimi, as he could not be openly gay in the Palestinian territories like he can in the more liberal and cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv. For a time, all goes well for the couple despite some jealousy on the part of Yali. However, Ashraf flees to his family in Nablus when he is recognized by Lulu’s former boyfriend as a Palestinian. Ashraf does not return any of Noam’s calls.

Noam is devastated by Ashraf’s desertion, and refuses to get out of bed. When the news reports violence in Ashraf’s hometown, Noam becomes worried. He and Lulu go to the West Bank identifying themselves as French television journalists and find Ashraf at his parents’ house and there the two men kiss. Ashraf’s future brother-in-law, Jihad (who is a Hamas militant), sees them and repudiates him, adding that Ashraf has to marry his cousin or he will reveal his secret. Lulu and Noam leave in a hurry, but encourage Ashraf to come to their anti-occupation rave party. Ashraf shows up, and he and Noam spend another night together.

Before his sister’s wedding ceremony, Ashraf tells her he is in love with a man. She angrily refuses to believe him, and Ashraf is devastated. Later, during the wedding, he overhears Jihad planning a bombing in Tel Aviv. Yali is maimed in the bombing, and will never walk again.

The next morning, Ashraf’s sister is killed by stray bullets in a military raid seeking those responsible for the Tel Aviv bombing, before his very eyes. At the funeral Jihad promises revenge, telling Ashraf’s father that his daughter was a martyr and will not die in vain. Jihad once again demands that Ashraf marry his cousin, revealing a poster of Ashraf’s involvement with the Israeli rave. It is clear at this point that Ashraf is walled in and feels no hope of escape from his situation. His brother-in-law, Jihad, decides to avenge the death of his newlywed bride, and while creating a suicide video, Ashraf decides to take Jihad’s place as a suicide bomber in Tel Aviv.

Ashraf wanders the streets of Tel Aviv with a sorrowful and blank expression. He winds up at the cafe in which he once worked. When Ashraf primes his explosive belt, Noam sees him from inside the bar where he has just bought Yali’s and Lulu’s dinner, and rushes out to Ashraf. Seeing Noam, Ashraf walks away from the bar to the middle of the street. As Noam approaches, Ashraf turns to face him. The two stare at each other and start to kiss when the bomb explodes, killing them both. The news report that Ashraf avoided more death by suddenly turning away from the cafe into the empty street. The film ends with Noam talking about the love the two shared, wondering whether they ever had a chance, wishing for a place where they can just love each other, and hoping that people will see “how stupid these wars are”, over a scene of young Noam and young Ashraf playing together as children in Jerusalem, their mothers sitting side by side.

Eytan Fox has admitted that the film might have been prompted by his memory of falling in love with a Palestinian man when he was going through his military service, when he was eighteen, although he did not follow this through.

Israelis have a strong sense of holy space. Solomon’s Temple, now just a venerated wall, was not simply a place to worship God, but God’s dwelling place–God’s apartment, if you will. Knowing that God lives in a particular place explains the willingness to sacrifice all for the sake of a toehold on the Mediterranean that’s more than half desert, and the conflict over who controls the land. The Bubble is a story of a group of young people trying to find a holy space–their own promised land in the Promised Land.

Fox has become one of Israel’s most famous directors, particularly through his films’ popularity on the gay film and indie festival circuit. His films have gained an international following for their witty but realistic portrayals of gay Jews attempting to carve out individual identities while grappling with the daunting constants of Israeli life: military service, the conflict with Palestine, and the overwhelming shadow of the Holocaust.

“The Bubble” is a local nickname for Tel Aviv, the most cosmopolitan city in Israel, referencing its separation from the conflicts that roil the rest of the country. It was filmed in the neighborhood that Fox and his partner in life and writing, Gal Uchovsky, call home. Perhaps the most important character in the film, Sheinkin Street, seems a little like Sunset in West Hollywood, with artists, gays, and celebrities mixing it up in the cafes, nightclubs, and boutiques in a never-ending contest of fabulousness. One can easily forget, watching the long-haired male and short-haired female, pierced, tattooed, fashionista, smoking, drinking, screwing denizens of the neighborhood, that this is one of the most conservative religious countries in the world, or that it is perpetually at war. That sense of alternate reality is precisely the point of the place.

The film is both critical and celebratory of the “bubble” mentality of the characters. The three Israeli protagonists are against the occupation of the Palestinian territories, but particularly feckless in their resistance to it. They wonder aloud why they can’t get Palestinians to come to meetings of their left-wing political group, yet have little awareness of how difficult it is for Arabs to get across the border checkpoints to do anything in Israel. The group’s idea of political protest is to hold a “Rave Against the Occupation” on the beach, as though downing Red Bull and ecstasy with fellow Jews will bring about better conditions for anyone in the West Bank.

And yet, as Fox states in an interview, for many Jews in his position–secular, gay, artistic–the alternative to living in the bubble is leaving Israel behind altogether. If it were “love it or leave it” America, the answer Fox would get to that objection would be “good riddance.” But in Israel, the sense of homeland and holy space depends on Jews living in the land. Every Jew that leaves, particularly the creative ones that can imagine some kind of future for the country besides religious fundamentalism and the military state, leaves the place bereft of both citizens and ideas.

“So, that’s how Jews kiss,” says Ashraf to Noam. Later, Noam counters during post-coital bliss, “So, that’s how Arabs do it.”

Fox alternately sympathizes with and disparages this behavior, as in Yelli—after giving Ashraf a makeover, a Hebrew name, and hiring him to work at his restaurant one day—tells Noam that it “doesn’t feel real” to have Ashraf living with them and their fag hag Lulu (Daniella Wircer) in a Tel Aviv apartment.

Fox shows how Palestinian and Israeli lives are inextricably bound and the way sexuality impacts ethnic conflict: When Ashraf’s future brother-in-law, a Hamas leader, commands a bomb to explode in Tel Aviv, Yelli is left injured, and a visit by Golan in the hospital outs Yelli to his parents; later, Ashraf’s sister, who painfully rejects her brother after he comes out to her, is killed by the bullet meant for her husband. Rana (Roba Blal) and Jihad’s (Shredy Jabarin) wedding ceremony is, for Ashraf, a succession of small humiliations, but there still isn’t enough focus on Ashraf’s struggle to reconcile his sexuality with his ethnic identity, so it is understandable if some accuse Fox of abusing a queer agenda. Insufficiently accounting for Noam and Ashraf’s sense of self-realization, Fox caps a perceptive film with a poignant but curious show of self-defeatism that succeeds only at dually romanticizing and trivializing terror.

“Some people don’t really like what I do, and don’t like the fact that I mesh these two,” Fox said with a shrug during a recent visit to San Francisco. “We have this dichotomy in Israel, where you have very serious political or ideologically oriented films and war stories. Then you have fluffy films that have humor.

“I told my [backers], ‘I want to make an Israeli-Palestinian relationship story but I don’t want to make it one of those heavy Amos Gitai films. I want to make a film that is true to life.'”

Fox grew up in a posh Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem called French Hill. It had a nice playground, so the children from Isawiya, an Arab village in nearby East Jerusalem, would come and play with the Jewish kids.

“At some point,” Fox recalls, “the head of the neighborhood committee decided or heard that the Palestinian kids were hitting or beating the Jewish kids. He said, ‘We’ll stop the whole playing together.’ My mother was beside herself.”

“It was important to us to shoot in the places where these things actually happen,” Fox explains. “I [also] insisted on shooting in Isawiya, and we went to shoot in Isawiya, and you can imagine shooting there.”

“I care about what people think about Israel, and I want them to see the whole picture, the bad and the good, the beautiful and the ugly.

“On some issues and on some levels, we’re so conservative and so backwards, so full of fear and racism and paranoia against Arabs, Palestinians, Russians, foreign workers. But we have this ability to embrace other minority groups. The women’s situation in Israel is wonderful, the gay situation in Israel is wonderful.”

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From → Film, Inter Faith

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