Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Is There Love in THE BUBBLE?
Eytan Fox, the film maker behind YOSSI AND JAGGER, has crafted a powerful ensemble piece that features four friends in modern Tel Aviv, Noam (Ohad Knoller), Lulu (Daniela Virtzer) and Yali (Alon Friedman), who begin this story arranging a 'Rave Against the Occupation', dreaming that techno beats and MDMA will be able to resolve the occupation. Noam begins a relationship with Ashraf (Yousef Sweid), a gay Palestinian, and they work to integrate him into their milieu by giving him a job at a cafe while he uses a fake Israeli accent and name to pass him off so they can remain together. There is something to be said also for the brilliant dialectic created around Ashraf, he must be a closeted gay man at home and a closeted Palestinian at his home away from home in Tel Aviv. When both closets fall by unintended outing, the character dynamic is impressive. There also is a great touch of nuance when the two lovers go to see a Hebrew-language staging of BENT by Martin Sherman, a striking parallel example of forbidden homosexuality in wartime.
The screenplay is a well-written and dynamic cross-section of both gay and straight couplings in the cityscape of the young people's culture, including sequences repudiating male chauvinism and providing an overall critique of the Occupation. IDF soldiers come off as trigger-happy hot-heads and camera-shy bullies who know that the system of checkpoints and and occupation is inherently wrong while the characters belonging to Hamas are given at least understanding if not justification by the script.
But with these things said, the portrayal of Palestinian ideas about homosexuality does present some problems. Ashraf heads home halfway through the picture to attend the wedding of his sister Rana, played by Ruba Blal. When her fiancé Jihad (Shredi Jabarin) spies Ashraf and Noam in a tender moment, he tells his future brother-in-law to marry to avoid being outed. Later, when Ashram tries to come out to his sister, she refuses to even hear his words.
My contacts in Israel have told me that the Arab stigma against homosexuality is dangerously real. But my own thought here is derived from the fact that Ashraf's family is much more secular than the family in WEDDING IN GALILEE, wearing typical Western garb, the bride wears a white wedding dress and the men wear collared shirts with ties. The bride is in the midst of university studies. This would suggest a more secular set of opinions and world-views. But instead, the homophobia is one dimensional and beholden to a cardboard cut-out shape that is rather petty. I was hoping for at least a bit more texture here, especially because a whole scene in the film gives a great cross-section of the gay male characters and the orientation points of their libidos when they look at the pin-up male celebrities on the bedroom wall, so perhaps a Palestinian rebuke of the rave culture and materialist outlook of urban Tel Aviv would have been as impressive and in equal measure to the earlier scene. There are a great deal of elements in the story that could have been utilized as arguments with Ashraf, perhaps his future in-law could have said that he has been influenced by the Tel Aviv nightlife and has forgotten the codes of Palestinian nationalism. Would it have been possible for the older sister to have gone farther, saying that he has rotted his brain with more than just American movies? Alas, it is not so, and so this deters my judgment that THE BUBBLE is a stellar film, that one failure makes it, in my view, good by not a masterpiece.