In the cinema, the love story best and most often told is that of forbidden love, in which forces outside the control of our protagonists thwart the possibility of any kind of happily ever after. Sometimes these love stories actually attain that joyful finale (My Fair Lady). More frequently they end in tragedy (Harold and Maude) and very rarely they can manage to fall into bizarrely ambiguous terrain (The Graduate).
Regardless of how it all may end, the forbidden love story remains consistently – and most importantly – a story of circumstance and contextualization. It is a story of social agents like class, family, politics, and implicit sexual mores coming together against a unique iteration of true love, and that love is subsequently transformed into the other. It is that very transformation that drives the story forward, and it is what drives our personal investment in the narrative. To whatever extent, we undoubtedly have all experienced this kind of displacement from “normalcy,” and when the cinema we consume effectively emote these sentiments for us, it is not too difficult to relate to what we see on screen.
The Bubble, a 2007 Israeli film and the second installment in the U of M’s International GLBT Film Series, is a gay love story all about presenting these circumstances. Director Eytan Fox, who also directed the conceptually similar Yossi and Jagger, contextualizes his film in the kind of civil unrest and political violence that defines – to him – the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Juggling both romantic and political elements throughout, The Bubble often feels like two different movies, and they do not always converge as neatly as they might have. Still, the amicably drawn protagonists and supporting characters provide enough charm to make Fox’s effort a sufficiently breezy, if not fully cooked, political/romantic fable.
Set in Tel Aviv, The Bubble tells a story of an Israeli reservist named Noam who begins a passionate affair with Ashraf, a Palestinian from Nablus who is under pressure to court the cousin of his future brother-in-law. Noam, along with his roommates Lulu and Yali, agree to house Ashraf indefinitely so he might avoid being forced into marriage. Time passes, and the four friends find themselves increasingly involved in a youth-run anti-war, anti-occupation political movement. As their political ideals become more defined, Noam and Ashraf’s affection intensifies, but greater issues beyond their control stand in the way of their happiness.
It is the four main characters who alone set the tone for The Bubble. The chemistry between each individual holds a distinct yet familiar camaraderie about it. There is a sense of history between these friends, as they feel entirely comfortable in each other’s presence. I appreciate that these characters never really establish themselves within tired gay stereotype, especially when it could easily have happened. I enjoyed the company of these characters, and at no point did I feel like I was stuck in the middle of some queer minstrel show.
That said, the biggest problems I have with The Bubble pertain to the story in which these well-realized characters find themselves. While it is clearly Fox’s goal to utilize the backdrop of the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a means of presenting a story of conflicted love, Fox does not do enough to establish how interconnected to the larger political scale the romance between Ashraf and Noam truly is.
I am reminded of Fatih Akin’s marvelous 2008 film The Edge of Heaven, which told a similar story of a doomed love between two women caught helplessly in the middle of cultural and political strife. Whereas Heaven knew to focus on the love story while restraining the politics to an incidental, merely contextual level, The Bubble overwhelmingly brings politics to the forefront, and ultimately fails to work solely at the service of the story’s characters.
While dichotomizing your film between politics and sexuality is not inherently a flaw – Jean-Luc Godard found a successful mix of the two when he made Masculin-Féminin – the simple truth is that Fox, in giving precedent to his political sensibilities, The Bubble does not give necessary attention to the romance between Noam and Ashraf. The final product, despite its strengths in characterization, feels schizophrenic.
Eytan Fox had all the right ideas; I just wish he knew how to allow them all to congeal into a coherent, multifaceted work. The Bubble is too much about circumstance; too little about context.
The Bubble was the second film in the University of Minnesota’s International GLBT Film Festival. Click here to read a summary of the Festival, followed by a brief review of their first film.
It seems a slight change has been issued for today’s film screening. The Belgian film Ma Vie en Rose will be showing instead, in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance. The film will be showing at 6:00 PM tonight at Carlson School Room 1-123.
Stay tuned for a review of the Thai film Iron Ladies, which will be showing at 5:00pm on Friday, November 20 on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis Campus. The location of the screening will be announced soon. Visit http://blog.lib.umn.edu/intlglbt/home/ to discuss on an online forum the films being screened, or email email@example.com with any questions.