Israeli film portrays a doomed gay relationship
By SHELDON KIRSHNER
What do you do for an encore?
Tel Aviv-based filmmakers Eytan Fox and Gal Uchovsky must have asked themselves this question after the commercial success of their last film, Walk on Water, the highest-grossing movie in Israeli history.
The story of a Mossad secret-service agent assigned to track down a Nazi war criminal, Walk on Water was screened in 25 countries and was a box-office hit, earning a grand total of $7 million (US).
Hot on its heels, the Israeli duo recently presented their latest picture, The Bubble, at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Mainly set on Sheinkin Street, in their hip neighbourhood in central Tel Aviv, The Bubble is unique in terms of subject matter the first Israeli feature-length film about a gay relationship between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Arab.
It opened in Israeli theatres at the end of June, shortly before the second war in Lebanon broke out on July 12. Our timing was terrible, said Fox, noting that movie theatres all over northern Israel closed in response to Hezbollah Katyusha rocket fire.
But once the war ended in mid-August, The Bubble bounced back and the buzz about it resumed. It has created a lot of commotion in Israel, said Fox, the director and co-screenwriter. Not left-wing enough, too left-wing. Too gay, not gay enough. It got people talking. Numerous articles have been published about it.
In The Bubble, which is due to be released in Canada next year, Noam (Ohad Knoller), an Israeli reservist soldier, strikes up a red-hot romance with Ashraf (Yousef Joe Sweid), a Palestinian from Nablus, after a chance meeting at a checkpoint in the West Bank.
The homosexual theme is hardly coincidental. Fox and Uchovsky, who are both gay and live as a couple in the cosmopolitan neighbourhood where the film mostly unfolds, are partial toward gay characters and situations.
In Walk on Water (2004), the grandson of the hunted Nazi criminal is gay, while in Yossi & Jagger (2002), two male soldiers stationed in southern Lebanon gravitate to each other.
Fox, who was born in New York City and raised in Jerusalem, regards The Bubble as something of a paean to Tel Aviv, whose openness and cosmopolitanism he highly appreciates. Tel Aviv is a socially and culturally vibrant city, and is the only truly liberal and progressive place to live in Israel. But Tel Aviv is a bubble, cut off from the harsh reality of the Middle East. Not surprisingly, gays feel comfortable in Tel Aviv. It has amazingly become one of the worlds most hospitable havens for homosexuals, observed Fox, who is 42. But this was not always the case, and is a reaction to previous years of oppression, he added. Lots of Israelis would leave Israel if not for Tel Aviv, which is an alternative to the religious right. Uchovsky, the 48-year-old producer and co-scriptwriter whose artistic collaboration with Fox began in 1997 with the musical short Gotta Have Heart, agrees with his partners assessment. Israel is very tolerant toward gays and lesbians, which marks a shift in attitude. Israel is one of the best countries in the Middle East for gays and lesbians.
This emerges in The Bubble loud and clear. Ashraf, the scion of a socially conservative clan, has no choice but to conceal his homosexuality from family and friends. Only in Israel, and in the arms of Noam, can he truly be himself and find happiness and bliss. Palestinian society is not really open to gays, said Uchovsky, who has been a vocal advocate of gays rights for the past two decades. Its complicated to be a gay there, and even more so to sleep with the enemy.
Fox believes that Israeli and Palestinian gays may one day be lovers, friends and partners. But in The Bubble, friendships of this kind are definitely doomed.
Expressing pessimism over the state of Israels current relations with the Palestinians, Fox commented, Were in one of the worst times as far as hope goes. Israelis have become cynical, but I think people want to live in peace.
Fox, who opposed the recent war in Lebanon from the outset, said that Israel must be flexible in its approach toward the Palestinians. They will be our neighbours forever, and we have to find a way of talking to them.
For real peace, he said, Israel should be prepared to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines and resolve the gnawing Palestinian refugee problem. Weve conducted ourselves wrongly and weve gone astray, said Fox in a reference to Israels policies toward the Palestinians. But I love Israel and care about it.