EmptyEytan Fox, the acclaimed Israeli director of "Yossi & Jagger" and the international hit "Walk on Water," achieves his strongest film yet with "The Bubble." Working with his frequent collaborator, writer-producer Gal Uchovsky, Fox has produced a rich tapestry of life in present-day Israel. Much of the film chronicles the hedonistic affairs of a group of twentysomething friends, gay and straight, but the romantic and sexual adventures take on added urgency because of the tense political situation that threatens to shatter the characters' lives.
The movie begins when Noam (Ohad Knoller) is doing army reserve duty at a Palestinian checkpoint, where he first encounters Ashraf (Yousef "Joe" Sweid) during an angry confrontation. When Noam returns to his civilian life in Tel Aviv, he meets Ashraf again, and the two begin a passionate sexual fling that develops into a more serious love affair. Eventually, Ashraf has to return to his home in Nablus, where his sister is about to marry a Hamas militant.
The tragic denouement has echoes of "West Side Story," with lovers from rival ethnic groups destroyed by misunderstanding and miscommunication. The fact that the two star-crossed lovers are men is not incidental, but it's not really the primary issue either. The homophobia of the Arab world impinges on the characters' lives, but the larger threat is the intolerance bred in a deeply divided country. In this regard, the film is remarkably even-handed, pointing out the crazed fanaticism of Arab suicide bombers but also criticizing Israeli overreaction.
While the story has a tragic weight, there are many comic moments, mainly attributable to Noam's two roommates, the feisty Lulu (Daniela Wircer) and the flamboyant Yelli (Alon Friedmann). In fact, one of the best things about the movie is that it sketches all of the characters with wit and sympathy. Lulu's lovers include a chauvinistic magazine editor and a baby-faced peacenik, while Yelli has a liaison with a right-wing soldier who claims that his fellow soldiers have no problems with his homosexuality.
Most of the characters come together in a rave against the occupation, a beach party with lots of dancing, drugs, and sex. The scene resonates because the characters' wild abandon clearly grows out of their apprehension of the precariousness of their lives.
The acting is first-rate. Knoller and Sweid play their love scenes without the slightest trace of self-consciousness. Wircer and Friedmann are extremely entertaining; indeed, the entire supporting cast is perfectly chosen. Fox deftly balances several story lines with economy and precision. The use of American songs, including "The Man I Love" performed in a gay nightclub, is very effective.
One might question the operatic finale, which doesn't quite have the inevitability of the greatest tragic love stories. But the film's humanism gives it an overwhelming impact. To Israeli audiences, the experience must be even more explosive.
Director: Eytan Fox
Screenwriters: Gal Uchovsky, Eytan Fox
Producers: Gal Uchovsky, Ronen Ben Tal, Amir Feingold
Executive producers: Moshe Edry, Leon Edry, David Silber, Micky Rabinovitch
Director of photography: Yaron Scharf
Production designer: Oren Dar
Music: Ivri Lider
Costume designer: Ido Dolev
Editors: Yosef Grunfeld, Yaniv Raiz
Noam: Ohad Knoller
Ashraf: Yousef "Joe" Sweid
Lulu: Daniela Wircer
Yelli: Alon Friedmann
Shaul: Zion Baruch
Golan: Zohar Liba
Sharon: Oded Leopold
Rana: Ruba Bial
Jihad: Shredy Jabarin
Running time -- 113 minutes
No MPAA rating