Remember back in the day when former President George W. Bush was criticized for “living in a bubble”? His opponents said he was isolated from reality. A similar accusation of those living in Tel Aviv is levied by Israelis who see themselves as realistic, facing life-and-death issues on a daily basis in the “real world.” They think that those who are well-educated and live in comfortable, upper-middle class neighborhoods, like the trendy Sheinkin Street district of Tel Aviv, are self-deluded pacifists who cannot understand the reality of the violent Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A few years ago, Israeli director Eytan Fox chose to examine this contrast between the isolating bubble that is Tel Aviv and the real world in the rest of Israel and the territories. His excellent double-twist on the iconic Romeo-and-Juliet tale, “The Bubble,” was released in the US two years ago and is now available on DVD.
The film focuses on a group of hip twenty-somethings. They have cool jobs, frequent the trendy Tel Aviv cafés, support local music and arts, are sexually free, and belong to a small group of liberals who protest the government by sponsoring a “Rave Against the Occupation.” A bit like the characters on the TV-sitcom “Friends” if they were more political, half of them were gay, and lived in Tel Aviv instead of New York.
Three roommates share an apartment. They are Yelli (Alon Freidmann) who is the manager of a café, Lulu (Daniella Wircer) who is a budding graphic artist, and Noam (Ohad Knoller) who works in a music store but also has to serve in the Reserves. Lulu is straight; Yelli and Noam are both gay, but have never hooked up together.
Enter Ashraf (Yousef “Joe” Sweid), a Palestinian whom Noam met while serving at a border checkpoint in the Reserves. Ashraf and Noam instantly hit it off and within no time Ashraf is sharing Noam’s bed and working for Yelli at the café. On the advice of the three roommates, he adopts a Hebrew name and “passes” for an Israeli; although a few keen observers are onto him, they don’t really care.
For a while, life is pretty cool in “the bubble” of Tel Aviv. Ashraf and Noam are developing a deep relationship, and their Jewish-Arab differences seem unimportant. They love frequenting the hot nightspots and theatres with Lulu and Yelli and other friends. (One of the plays they attend is a revival of “Bent” by Martin Sherman; it’s about homosexuals in the Holocaust and it stars the famous Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi who plays himself in a cameo.) In the cosmopolitan city, they are free to express themselves sexually, politically, artistically; for the most part, no one objects to anything.
Of course, this cannot last forever. Reality intrudes when Ashraf must return to his family’s home in the territories for his sister’s wedding. Not only do the harsh politics of vengeance pervade here, but we are reminded that in such traditional cultures, gay love is still taboo and it is death to come out of the closet. This is something that those in the bubble, who have freedom to be whoever they want, tend to forget.
To those inside the bubble, where coexistence is the norm and the worst it gets is a shouting match on the street between those of differing political points-of-view, violence is certainly not a way to solve differences. But outside the bubble, vengeance and violence is a way of life. As the film builds toward its climax, one tragedy leads to another, which one-upmanship demands an even bigger one.
Is it inevitable? This film makes us ponder these two contrasting cultures. Can the problems of the Middle East be solved through peaceful conflict-resolutions as those inside the bubble tend to believe? Can people put aside their differences and just enjoy each others’ diversity, revel in their similarities, and live the high-life together?
Or is this just a naïve view? Maybe it’s gone too far and the only thing left to do is for both sides to keep killing each other until only one is left. That’s the “real world” approach.
Perhaps I can understand why someone would want to live in a bubble.