Saturday, October 27, 2007

Eytan Fox has new film about Middle East: "The Bubble"

Eytan Fox (“Yossi & Jagger” and “Walk on Water”) has a new film from Israel that mixes gay issues with Mideast politics, called “The Bubble” (from Strand Releasing, 117 min, would be R). The cover somehow reminds me of “Shortbus” with attractive young men and women stacked, the legs suitably contrasted.

In fact, Magnolia pictures had released a mystery called “Bubble” early in 2006; that movie is discussed on this blog April 3, 2006. The imdb title of this film in Hebrew is “Ha-Buah”.

An appealing young gay man in the military reserves, Noam (Ohad Knoller) lives in a Tel Aviv “bubble” with other young adults, some of whom are gay. It does not seem to cause any problems with his military service at all (again, arguing against “don’t ask don’t tell”, dropped a long time ago by Israel with the military gay theme taken up in Fox ‘s first film, above). One day, he meets a young Palestinian, Ashraf (Youssef Sweid) at a checkpoint where a woman gives birth to a stillborn. In time they see a lot of each other, and Ashraf’s life becomes emeshed in the “Bubble”. They even say that, after all, kibbutzim are bubbles, as are walled-off Palestinian enclaves on the West Bank. Eventually, they celebrate in a disco dance called The Rave, protesting “the Occupation”.

When Noam visits Ashraf’s village, Asraf’s brother sees him, and pressures him to get married and give his father grandchildren to cover up his homosexuality. Pretty soon, Israeli police accidentally kill Ashraf’s sister (critical of his lifestyle), and Ashraf has a personal moral crisis over his own lifestyle and issues like blood loyalty and family. That will hurl the movie toward a tragic, and in some sense foolish, conclusion.

Fox is obviously interested in exploring the moral conundrums of this world. Morality on one level in this region applies only to whole groups of people, who are in conflict for historical reasons. Individual rights in this kind of world have little moral traction, and that makes us think we are better than them, sometimes. Within a family, morality implies absolute blood loyalty, because it is essential for survival. Deeper than that, the loyalty expresses a form of karma, where a character like Ashraf must deal with what he owes, in emotional terms, to the family that created him.

On an individual level, the relationship between Noam and Ashraf suggests that individual love should transcend political conflicts – a kind of gay “Romeo and Jules.” Of course, in the straight world, sometimes vendettas for political feuds are settled with arranged marriages with procreation (even on the soap “Days of our Lives”).

But that is what drives moral debate – one cannot presume a permanent stable world that guarantees absolute freedom. The idea that everyone owes the world “procreation” (or at least the indirect support of it in the Vatican sense) comes to mind as a kind of karma, because it would make the world psychologically safer for the majority of average people, but it would also deny the world a lot of individual creative energy, implicit in a capitalist society, necessary to raise the standard of living for everyone (the Da Vinci Code problem).

It’s often written that suicide bombings on the middle East are the result of personal shame, of being second class citizens with no rights and with property taken away by force. It’s more than that, as some of the shame is religious. It’s hard to say from this film whether it is collective or individual, because the motives for the climax of the film seem a bit self-destructive and wishful.

This film (shot flat) is at its visual best “on the road” with many spectacular shots of the West Bank communities. He makes the Middle East into a kind of Middle Earth.

Curiously, the film apparently did not appear in the recent Reel Affirmations 17 film festival, documented on this blog.

The reader may want to look at John Crosby's novel "An Affair of Strangers" from the 1970s.

Update: Nov. 1, 2007

On Thursday Nov. 1 HBO broadcast its 75 minute documentary film "To Die in Jerusalem", directed by Hilla Medalia. This docudrama analyzes the 2002 killing of 17 year old Rachel Levy by Palestinian female suicide bomber Ayat al-Akhras. Like the film above, it shows breathtaking on-location scenes of the crowded West Bank, including Bethlehem itself. Four years later, in 2006, journalists go back (and there is a sign warning visitors that they are effectively endangering themselves by entering the West Bank). But the climax, or "Third Act" of the movie comes with a video conferencing of a confrontation between the mothers of the two teenage girls. The high-tech meeting is necessary because apparently the Palestinian woman is not allowed transit into Jerusalem. The Jewish mother wants to emphasize the interpersonal and human tragecy. The Palestinian mother expresses relentless outrage and shame of being expected to live under occupation, with their property and individual rights taken away and very much as less than "second class citizens." The Jewish woman begs her to transcend the politics. Only at the end is there any hint of possible emotional reconciliation.

From a filmmaking point of view, the confrontation is extremely effective and dramatic, and shows how much can be done with just two "characters" in an indoor scene. This certainly encourages low-budget filmmakers. In the acting classes in Minneapolis (the Twin Cities Actors Forum), we used to try to set up two character confrontations (like firings over lunch as in "Kramer v Kramer") and tape them.

There is a moral point to the film, too. It's one thing to tell people to transcend political wrongs and give up violence. It's another thing to ask them to bond to people over the objection of political problems. The latter is a real challenge.

This is a stunning film and it deserves a theatrical release from a company like Miramax or Picturehouse.

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