Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Ha Buah (The Bubble, Israel, 2006)

Director: Eytan Fox.

Principal cast: Ohad Knoller, Yousef Sweid, Daniela Virtzer, Alon Friedman.

Since the advent of story-telling, people of all nationalities have been fascinated and easily touched by accounts of unhappy love. Even more fascinating have always been the tales of impossible love, love that cannot be. The Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox’ latest film „The Bubble” is about that. And then it is also not. The title of the film refers to the „bubble” that is Tel-Aviv set against the background of the political realities of Israel. The country’s cosmopolitan and unofficial capital city doesn’t have much in common with Nablus, a city in the Palestinian West Bank which also features in the film. It doesn’t have much in common with the tense and hateful atmosphere at the Palestinian checkpoints. Actually, it doesn’t seem to have much in common with anything surrounding it. The „bubble” of Tel-Aviv allows people to have a lifestyle which isn’t much different from what you may expect in any Western city. Teenage girls looking for Britney Spears’ records, a lifestyle magazine editor looking for a sexy cover for his next issue, trendy people sitting in trendy cafes discussing trendy things over cups of cappuccino and other similarly trendy drinks, while those at home are watching the local edition of Pop Idol. It is this „bubble” that also has the potential to lull one’s mind into a false sense of reality.

The film evolves around the lives of three young Israelis who share a flat and, for the most part, try to stay out of politics. Yelli, the camp owner and manager of „Orna & Ella”, a hip cafe, rarely leaves the city and prefers not to think about the „crap that surrounds them”. Noam, a soft and easygoing employee of a slightly avantguard record store, seems to be equally unwilling to engage in long political discussions and contemplations. Lulu, the only female of the lot, is on the contrary linked to the Israeli Left, although her political activities seem to be confined to „raves against the occupation”. Yelli and Noam naturally don’t object to participating in these. Lulu and her political friends make t-shirts with the rave’s logo, put up posters and hand out booklets advertising it in the neighbourhood. Their main concern seems to be that there are never any actual Palestinians participating and that the police might come and spoil all the fun for them again. The closest they come to an actual confrontation is when they get into a scuffle with some not so Palestinian-friendly locals who try to prevent them from handing out the leaflets. In other words, predictable products of the „bubble”.

The opening scenes of the film take us to a checkpoint on a road to Nablus where we also find Noam doing his reserve duty. A group of Palestinians is being thoroughly checked before entering Israel, among them a pregnant woman who suddenly goes into labour and gives birth to a stillborn child despite the best efforts from Noam and the doctor who eventually arrives in an ambulance. The woman is comforted by a young man who later turns up on Noam’s doorstep in Tel-Aviv with his ID which the latter obviously dropped during the ordeal on the border. His name is Ashraf, he’s Palestinian and he’s gay. And he hasn’t just come to hand back the ID, he has come to see Noam. Without a permit to live in Israel and despite the initial hesitation from Noam's flatmates he stays. He soon gets a Jewish name and a job at Yelli’s cafe. Having grown up in Jerusalem with Hebrew, he doesn’t have an Arabic accent which makes it possible for him and his newly found friends to conceal his identity. The sky is light blue and the air is sweet. But it cannot last. For he has become part of an equation which was never meant to be.

At one point, Noam and Ashraf watch a play called Bent about two prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp who have a love relationship which can never become physical or visible to the surrounding guards. They find a way of being together on another level, a metaphysical one, a level where no one else has access. This is also where our couple arrives in the end. And it couldn’t have been much different for them, not in today's Israel.

„The Bubble” is a political statement about the bubble that bursts when confronted with the political realities of today’s Israel set against the background of a beautiful and awkward love story involving an Israeli and a Palestinian, the impossible love story in a divided world where no such things as compromise or other colours than black and white exist. „The Bubble” is also a beautiful film about people, gay and straight, inhabiting that strange city, Tel-Aviv, shown through the eyes of people who really care about them. The film's premise may have its flaws and the fatal chain of events may seem somewhat construed, but its strong message and emotional impact will not leave you untouched.


Amy said...

I suppose one will be touched by the real life circumstances that the film portrays, but not by the manner in which the film portrays them. While one could not have more sympathy for a person that carries the double stigma of both having the wrong sexual orientation for his homeland, yet the wrong ethnicity for the place he wants to be, I found the character of Ashraf incredibly shallow and selfish. While some films portray characters who display great courage under difficult circumstances (I was reminded of a number of Holocaust films by the play that they showed in the film), this one chose to show a protagonist who buckled under the strain and was selfish enough to take others with him. But it was not only Ashraf that I found superficial; most of the characters in the film were unredeeming. Even Yelli could not simply be happy for his friend and his new love, but showed signs of jealousy and criticism of Noam's choice of a boyfriend. In fact the only storyline I found engaging was Lulu's, although it was quite a common one - the girl who has eternal bad luck with guys despite taking every precaution, meanwhile she doesn't notice the nice guy waiting in the wings, but when she finally does, they live happily ever after. And as you said, Lulu was the only one really concerned with making a difference; all of the others seemed content to go on living their shallow lives and talking about their shallow trendy things.
I also found the storyline rather contrived - it was a bit too perfect that Yelli would have been injured in the first bombing, Ashraf's sister killed in the retaliation, and that the final retaliation would claim two more of the central characters' lives, leaving a body count of wounded and dead probably realistic in terms of the region, but unrealistic considering the time frame in which the film takes place.
The film stands in stark contrast to Go West, which also deals with dually-stigmatized characters, yet gives them much more decency, humanity and depth. Furthermore the plot in Go West is better developed, the script better written, and the overall film of higher quality.
I was disappointed by this film; I had wanted to like it more but it just failed on too many counts. Perhaps a second watch will reveal more to me, but for now I am left for the most part unmoved.

Andrejs Visockis said...

I wouldn't say this film stands in stark contrast to Go West as it's difficult to compare these two films, although they do have certain things in common: two lovers from different parts of a violent political divide. Different people see different things in a film and come to different conclusions. I disagree that everyone apart from Lulu was selfish un unredeeming. I'm not sure how much her "making difference" actually mattered since it just involved arranging rave parties for the other "shallow and unredeeming" young Telavivians. The intention of the film was to show "normal" young people in a beleaguered city who weren't much different from their contemporaries in other Western cities and how it was just a bubble and self-delusional. A political activist in Tel-Aviv would know that, but then he wouldn't be all that interesting to portray because he wouldn't represent the majority of the population. And I also don't know how selfish Ashraf really was. He knew that he had no future. He'd be forced into a marriage and have to live a doubble life, always facing an possible exposure and most probably an "honour" execution by his relatives or he could try to go on living illegally in Tel-Aviv and face either being caught by the authorities and expelled to more or less the same fate as stated above or being targeted by people in his own background directly for being a "traitor" and a "pervert". It was selfish to take Noam with him, but people in love are not exactly rational.

Amy said...

It's not that Lulu actually "made a difference," but the fact that she cared about trying to make one that gives her some depth as a person. Noam is perhaps the next least shallow character; while not really exhibiting any overt signs of humanity, he does sit on his elitist pedestal of musical taste, laughing at the teenagers who want to listen Britney Spears. As I said, Yelli is a selfish and jealous person who seems to only care about his cool cafe with its relaxed atmosphere, exhibited in the nonchalant way they serve the wine. Lulu's first boyfriend is a womanizing pig, Ashraf's brother is a bastard for obvious reasons, and his sister can't see past his homosexuality. I saw very little humanity in any of these characters, with the sole exception of Lulu and her later love interest.

And as for Ashraf, yes, of course he faced a future without many options - except one, which was actually mentioned in the film. I believe that the girl his brother-in-law wanted him to marry was hip to his gayness and tried to give him an out by mentioning London. Whether or not that is the reason she suggested it, nevertheless it was presented in the movie as an option for him, albeit most likely a difficult one. But instead of persevering, he took the easy way out. Not only did he selfishly take his love with him, but he also carried out his brother-in-law's reprehensible deed, thus perpetuating the cycle of violence in the region that only Lulu seemed to lament.

As I wrote in my other review, the other characters, namely Noam and Yelli, were victims of their intertia. They didn't give a damn about what was going on around them and so they suffered the consequences.

If this film is about love then it presents a kind of love that I want no part of - one that smacks of jealousy, selfishness and self-centeredness. If these characters do represent the majority of the population in Tel-Aviv, then it is just sad that they prefer to live with the delusion of a cushy life while all of this is happening around them. They could make a difference, but they choose not to.

What the film does prove, however, is that in fact it does pay to care about others - in the end, Lulu, the only one who really cared, finally got her man :)

Amy said...

I would like to also add one positive comment. I thought it was rather clever of them to make all of the ring tones and keypad tones of the characters' cell phones sound like bubbling water. I imagine it was intentional, either that or those are the standard tones for Israeli phones these days. Anyway, it was a nice, cute touch! :)