The Boys In ‘The Bubble’
George Robinson - Special To The Jewish Week
Each of Eytan Fox’s last three films has taken its visual cues from one of the four “elements” that the ancient Greeks believed made up the world. “Yossi and Jagger,” with its tough portrait of a small military unit, was very much a film set in and of the earth. “Walk on Water” relied on its title element as a metaphor for its spy-hero’s ability to blend into his surroundings, like a fish in the sea.
Fox’s latest film, “The Bubble” is, as its title suggests, a film about air, the air over Tel Aviv and Nablus, its principal settings, the air that cushions and seemingly protects its trio of 20-something protagonists, the air into which two key cast members are dispersed in the film’s tragic ending.
Of course, the protection afforded by a bubble, whether metaphorical or literal, is meager at best. And that is the dilemma facing Noam (Ohad Knoller, who played Yossi in “Yossi and Jagger”), Lulu (Daniela Wircer) and Yali (Alon Friedmann), who share an apartment in one of Tel Aviv’s hipper districts. At the film’s outset, Noam is finishing his army service at one of the checkpoints where he finds himself in the midst of a catastrophe involving a very pregnant Palestinian woman who begins to give birth while waiting to enter Israel. The newborn dies and just before the credits begin we see Noam walking away from the camera with a weariness that seemingly nothing will erase.
He is followed by Ashraf (Yousef Sweid), a young Palestinian who has been impressed by his humane conduct at the checkpoint (and, just possibly, his flashing blue eyes.) They begin a relationship that quickly blossoms into real love. By contrast, Yali, who is also gay, takes up with the hunky but uncouth Golan (Zohar Liba), while Lulu nurses her wounded feelings when she is dumped by a magazine editor (Oded Leopold) who will turn out to be an even bigger rat than she suspects.
Fox and his regular writer-producer (and life partner) Gal Uchovsky juggle these three relationships adroitly for a while, working the comic elements deftly but never letting viewers forget that the “bubble” of Tel Aviv’s tolerant society is always under threat from many directions. At some point in the film each of the four main characters will urge the others to “forget politics,” but the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict keep intruding painfully on their lives.
Therein lies the central theme that runs through all of Fox’s films that have been released in the United States: the ways in which harsh political reality disrupts his protagonists’ personal lives, infecting their sexual and romantic relationships to the point of destruction in “Yossi and Jagger” and “The Bubble.” In that respect, “The Bubble” seems at times like a throwback to the pre-Stonewall era of “Boys in the Band,” although the bulk of the gay-bashing comes from Ashraf’s family. A little too often, the film seems like an unintentional return to the victimology of that earlier time, but Fox manages to undercut what Marxist critic Walter Benjamin called “left-wing melancholy” with a powerful celebration of sex itself, encapsulated beautifully by a nicely timed match cut between Lulu making love in the apartment and Noam and Ashraf doing the same elsewhere.
The real problem with “The Bubble” is that Fox and Uchovsky just aren’t that interested in Lulu or Yali and the attempts to integrate their personal lives into the film seem forced, intrusions into what is clearly the story the filmmakers really care about, and the final movement of the film into bleakness and violence seems like an unhappy attempt simultaneously to tie up loose ends and to make a “big” statement. As he did at some points in “Walk on Water,” Fox seems overmatched by his material, a victim of his own desire to say something profound about Jews and Israel and the Holocaust (there is a scene from Martin Sherman’s play “Bent,” which seems to be here more for symbolic reasons than anything else).
But that’s not where his considerable strengths lie. As he did with “Walk on Water,” Fox leaves us with some wonderful moments in “The Bubble,” moments when he and Uchovsky step back from the larger picture to focus on the behavioral grace notes that make their films worth watching regardless of their occasional structural flaws. The problem with “The Bubble” is that this time those lovely moments are buried under the unstated but omnipresent rhetoric of the situation itself. You could say that the film suffers from an excess of the air that is its primary visual component. n
“The Bubble” will have a special preview screening at the JCC in Manhattan (334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street) on Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m. For information call (646) 505-5708 or go to www.jccmanhattan.org. The film will be released on Friday, Sept. 7 at the Angelika Film Center (18 W. Houston St.) and the Clearview Chelsea (260 W. 23rd St.).
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