Young and in love inside the Tel Aviv 'Bubble'
The young Tel Aviv adults in "The Bubble" may not be that brilliant or that with-it, but, boy, are they ever idealistic. "I wish we could make all politics disappear," says one character on her way home from an all-night beach party. Of course, without politics her group's shindig might not have happened, and certainly no one would have been able to call it "Rave Against the Occupation."
Based on the name of that party alone, I'm with her: I wish politics would disappear, too. That way "The Bubble" could relax and be the sitcom, sprinkled with drama, it really should be. Director Eytan Fox may believe that Middle East politics are an obstruction to happiness, but his movie uses the tensions of the region like badly spaced speed bumps. Nothing happens that doesn't seem ordained by the laws of hokey screenwriting. Characters of different ethnicities and sexual orientations cohabit peacefully - until, of course, they don't.
"The Bubble" opens at a West Bank checkpoint, where the Israeli Noam (Ohad Knoller) works an Army security detail and the Palestinian Ashraf (Yousef "Joe" Sweid) is trying to cross. A day later Noam and his housemates, Lulu (Daniela Wircer) and Yali (Alon Friedmann), think the guy at the door is a date for Lulu, but it's Ashraf there to return the ID Noam accidentally left behind.
Soon after, Lulu's actual date, a macho cheeseball, appears at the apartment and proceeds to insult her fashion designer aspirations. Meanwhile, Noam and Ashraf head up to the roof and make out. Yali goes on a date with a macho cheeseball of his own and, later, hires Ashraf, who speaks fluent Hebrew, to wait tables at his cafe if he agrees to pass for Israeli, which he does.
Since Ashraf's family in Nablus doesn't know he's gay, he's living in two closets now. Eventually, Noam tells Ashraf the sex they have is "explosive." It's unclear whether the scope of the pun really occurs to either man, since neither rolls his eyes as I did. Love, apparently, is the bomb to make.
Being a heavy-handed product of its environment, however, "The Bubble" has to come up with a real bomb and an actual body to wrap it around. When it goes off, you roll yours eyes again, because Fox's intent is simultaneously sincere and tough to take seriously.
Fox wrote "The Bubble" with his life and screenwriting partner Gal Uchovsky, and it's their first film since "Walk on Water," an intelligently made movie about a Mossad agent who falls for a relative of one of his Nazi targets. The new film is as sexually fearless but lacks the psychological depth that kept "Walk on Water" surprising. "The Bubble" is a blitz of symbolic sentimentality. Noam and Ashraf go to a production of the gay concentration camp play, "Bent," which here happens to star Lior Ashkenazi, who played the Mossad agent in "Walk on Water."
If one character gets to make a speech or be righteous, they all do - even Ashkenazi, who gets to tell off the shallow Time Out editor who happens to be Lulu's cheeseball. His name is Sharon. Yali's macho suitor is Golan. And Ashraf's increasingly hostile future brother-in-law is named Jihad. By the middle of the second hour, Fox is obviously going for some kind of epic. The intensity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict almost unfairly necessitates that even the lightest entertainment acknowledge the grave political realities of the region.
The movie's title is meant to challenge the perception that Tel Aviv is a progressive haven from all the strife. But Fox has an impossible time gracefully building an organic work out of this situation. Politics cover up the characters like scaffolding. (There's no natural place for their love of popular culture either. Names are dropped and songs just jammed in with all the dialogue and overplotting.)
Not unlike Julie Taymor, whose Beatles fantasia "Across the Universe" forces false optimism on the upheaval of the 1960s, Fox and Uchovsky are idealists. But the "All You Need Is Love" sensibility in "The Bubble" feels much truer. It's the doom that feels forced. Maybe Fox and Uchovsky, who have made a short musical film, should try a full-blown musical of their own. If they wanted to take me across the universe, I'd be more than willing to follow.