Again finding reflection of moral and political issues in the minidramas of everyday Israeli youth, Eytan Fox delivers another involving tale in "The Bubble." Pic should follow their path to wide international exposure, though critical support may be more qualified.

Again finding reflection of moral and political issues in the minidramas of everyday Israeli youth, Eytan Fox delivers another involving tale in “The Bubble.” The last-act credibility strain that marred “Walk on Water” resurfaces here, however, and that plus a somewhat lighter, diffuse seriocomic focus make this less satisfying overall than “Water” or the helmer’s breakthrough “Yossi & Jagger.” Pic should follow their path to wide international exposure, though critical support may be more qualified.

Title refers to cosmopolitan Tel Aviv and, in particular, the hip Sheikin St. district, a “bubble” in which Westernized urban-hipster flavor can seem wholly removed from the racial and religious conflicts raging a few miles away. Three twentysomething flatmates are more concerned with dating and gossip than weightier issues.

Lulu (Daniela Wircer) works in a perfume shop and hopes withholding sexual favors from her latest b.f. (a magazine editor) might give their relationship some legs.

Her roomies are two gay men: Tall, bitchy Yali (Alon Friedmann)and earnest Noam (Ohad Knoller, in a very different mode from macho “Yossi”) who’s just back from a reserve-duty stint at an army checkpoint. There, he met young Ashraf (Yousef “Joe” Sweid) during an unpleasant incident where a hard-assed officer’s search of several Palestinians led to a woman’s miscarriage. Distressing though these introductory circumstances are, Ashraf and Noam connect, later meeting in Tel Aviv and falling into an immediate if casual live-in relationship — Yali even gets the newcomer a job at his cafe, despite barely concealed jealousy and Ashraf’s lack of an Israeli work permit.

Lulu and Noam are involved in a young anti-occupation group whose activities don’t seem to extend far beyond mounting a “Rave for Peace” unlikely to draw a crowd more diverse than the usual local Israeli lefties. When they hand out fliers on the street, however, they get a sobering dose of mainstream opinion. Another reality check is provided when Ashraf, in danger of being reported as a Palestinian without necessary documentation, has to flee back home to Nablus on short notice. There, his sister is about to marry a man active in Hamas, whose views on homosexuality are not accommodating.

As in prior films, Fox’s greatest strength lays in conveying genuine affection between youthful lovers and friends, which in turn lends eventual cruel twists of fate greater poignancy. But for all its appealing performances and persuasive individual scenes, “The Bubble” makes an uneven impression. Early half-hearted stab at balancing focus between the three roommates lends the pic a somewhat routine, almost frivolous romantic-comedy air, with Lulu and Yali’s own romantic travails generating just modest interest. And climactic events that push the central gay Israeli-Palestinian pairing toward predictable tragedy feel over-contrived and psychologically less than credible.

Once again, Fox has heavily weighted the soundtrack with pop faves, in this case reflecting Noam’s penchant for the Smiths, Belle & Sebastian, and other indie stars. Tech aspects are OK, though a bit more stylishness from Yaron Scharf’s lensing wouldn’t have hurt.

The Bubble

Israel

Production

An Uchovsky Fox production in association with Metro Communications, Ronen Ben Tal Prods., Fiengold Prods., United King Films, Hot and Keshet. Produced by Gal Uchovsky, Ronen Ben Tal, Amir Feingold. Executive producers, Moshye Edry, Leon Edry, David Silber, Micky Rabinovich. Directed by Eytan Fox. Screenplay, Gal Uchovsky, Fox.

Crew

Camera (color), Yaron Scharf; editors, Yosef Grunfeld, Yaniv Raiz; music, Ivri Lider; production designer, Oren Dar; art director/costume designer, Ido Dolev; sound designer (Dolby), Gil Toren; casting, Yael Aviv. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentation), Sept. 12, 2006. Running time: 118 MIN.

With

Noam - Ohad Knoller Ashraf - Yousef "Joe" Sweid Lulu - Daniela Wircer Yali - Alon Friedmann Shaul - Zion Baruch Golan - Zohar Liba Sharon - Oded Leopold Rana - Ruba Blal Jihad - Shredy Jabarin

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