A Bottle in the Gaza Sea: Film Review

This heartfelt drama is a simplistic tale of the friendship between a teenage Jewish girl and a young Palestinian man, but ultimately adds little insight to this oft-highlighted conflict.

Thierry Binisti's drama is a Palestinian and Israeli version of Romeo and Juliet based on a young-adult novel.

Revealing its young-adult novel origins with its fairly simplistic depiction of the budding online friendship between a teenage Israeli girl and a 20-year-old Palestinian man, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea nonetheless wins one over with its heartfelt Romeo and Juliet-like tale. This French-Israeli co-production directed by Thierry Binisti will best appeal to younger viewers who don’t find subtitles a deal breaker.

The French-born Tal (Agatha Bonitzer) has just moved to Jerusalem with her family when she is suddenly confronted with the region’s violence in the form of a suicide bombing. She impulsively writes a note questioning the morality of such an act, which her soldier brother serving in Gaza puts in a bottle and tosses in the sea.

It’s eventually found by Naim (Mahmoud Shalabi), who quickly communicates with the writer since she’s conveniently included her e-mail address. The pair strikes up a wary correspondence, relating the details of their quite divergent lives and arguing their side’s respective ideological points. But eventually a deep friendship forms, with Naim particularly interested in hearing about life in France, where he dreams of someday going to school.

As with many epistolary-themed movies in the modern age, the film contains far too many scenes of the main characters staring soulfully at their computer screens. But it also vividly conveys the detailed aspects of Naim’s life in the troubled region of Gaza, where he lives with his widowed mother (Hiam Abbass) who works endless hours to keep them financially afloat.

The very good-looking young leads deliver appealing performances, and Abbas is deeply moving as the loving Palestinian mother. And there’s certainly no arguing with the film’s worthwhile themes of tolerance and mutual acceptance. But ultimately A Bottle in the Gaza Sea adds little insight into a conflict that has already inspired several powerful dramas, such as the recent The Other Son, and is sadly likely to be the subject of many more.

(Film Movement)

Production: TS Productions

Cast: Agathe Bonitzer, Mahmoud Shalabi, Hiam Abbass, Abraham Belaga, Pean-Philippe Ecoffey, Smadi Wolfman

Director: Thierry Binisti

Screenwriter: Thierry Binisti, Valerie Zenatti

Producer: Milena Poylo

Executive producers: Anne-Marie Gelinas, Amir Harel, Ayelet Kait

Director of photography: Laurent Brunet

Editor: Jean-Paul Husson

Production designer: Boaz Katznelson

Costume designer: Hamada Attalah

Composer: Benoit Charrest

Not rated, 99 min