Directed by Eytan Fox
Written by Eytan Fox
and Gal Uchovsky
Starring Ohad Knoller,
Yousef (Joe) Sweid, Daniela Wircer and Alon Friedmann
The portentous title of Israeli writer-director Eytan Fox's third film refers, somewhat pejoratively, to the myopic world view of typical Tel Aviv twentysomethings, hedonistic youth who willfully ignore the political maelstrom that surrounds them. That politics will and do intrude into this world is inevitable. And when the bubble is pricked, it doesn't just pop - it explodes.
A prologue introduces the two leads, Noam (Ohad Knoller), a gay Israeli reservist on checkpoint duty, and Ashraf (Yousef Sweid), a Palestinian possessed of smouldering looks and a curiosity about life beyond his Nablus neighbourhood. Later, when Noam's service has ended and he's reunited with his fun-loving roommates - Lulu, a comely sales clerk, and Yali, the campy owner of a café - Ashraf turns up and immediately seduces a more-than-willing Noam. The Israeli trio's uninhibited existence charms Ashraf and, rather than returning home to his intolerant, Hamas-supporting family, he temporarily moves in, taking an under-the-table job at Yali's café (as well as a Hebrew name) and revelling in the carefree life of Tel Aviv's trendy Shenkin Street. Belle and Sebastian's wistful pop music adds a sugary shimmer.
There's a feel of early Almodovar to all this, although Fox (the director of the hugely successful spy thriller Walk on Water) is never as effervescent or as genuinely ribald as the Spanish director. Anyway, it seems life in Israel is never that carefree. Security is on perpetual guard outside Yali's place and Noam and the gang, despite their political ambivalence, are part of a lefty group that is organizing a "Rave Against the Occupation." (This is the film's most glorious and heartfelt scene: an ecstasy-fuelled utopia by the sea.)
Handing out leaflets to promote the party, they are confronted by a woman who angrily asks whether they know what's it like to "be showered by an eight-year-old's body parts." Later, Lulu's sleazy boyfriend, an editor at Time Out, figures out that Ashraf is Palestinian and wants to write an exposé about his secret life.
While Noam and Ashraf's relationship is the genuinely intriguing one (as well as the most graphic - this is no decorous Brokeback Mountain), Fox strives to give equal time to Lulu and Yali's own romantic travails. The effect is less of balance than of shallowness, as Fox never delves very deeply into any of his characters or situations. And The Bubble only partly succeeds as a romantic comedy: The romance is largely there, the funny not so much, and the film lurches into lugubrious melodrama in its rapid-fire final minutes. The plot pivots increasingly on absurd coincidence. And when Noam describes his and Ashraf's love as "explosive," you know exactly what's coming.
It's as if Fox sets out to punish his characters for their ignorance, abandoning a sensitive and occasionally surprising love story in favour of political cliché. It's a fatuous decision and one that betrays the very point of the film. Love, apparently, is not all you need.
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