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The issues of his life

Israeli director Eytan Fox again draws from personal experience, this time in 'The Bubble,' about gay lovers from different sides of the Middle East conflict.

September 04, 2007|Lisa Rosen | Special to The Times

The Bubble" by Israeli director Eytan Fox, which opens Friday, centers on a charged love story between Noam, an Israeli, and Ashraf, a Palestinian. As if that idea didn't conjure up enough obstacles for the two young leads to face, Noam and Ashraf are men. This will come as no surprise to fans of Fox's work, which includes 2002's "Yossi and Jagger," the clandestine love story of two male Israeli army officers stationed on the Lebanese border. In fact, the personal and the political have merged in Fox's work since he began making movies.

When Fox was in film school in Tel Aviv, he directed a thesis project called "After" that was about a young Israeli army recruit who discovers that his commanding officer is gay. The film was accepted into the Gay and Lesbian, International and Jewish film festivals -- all in San Francisco, all in the same year. "And I realized that I qualified," said the U.S.-born Fox, 43. "I was a man of the world, a gay man and a Jewish man, and my films somehow fit into those three categories."

"After" did more than introduce Fox to the film community at large. "In college I was still not out, and I realized if I make this film I'll have to come out to my parents and to my friends," Fox said in a recent phone interview. He came to understand that his films were where he could tackle the issues of his life, his family and his community, with as much humor as sorrow, "and I've been doing more of the same ever since."

In "The Bubble," co-written by Fox and his life partner of 19 years, Gal Uchovsky, Noam has a flashback to his childhood in Jerusalem's wealthy French Hill enclave, situated near the poor Arab neighborhood of Issawiya, Ashraf's hometown. The scene comes directly from Fox's past. A playground between the two areas had been deemed off-limits to Arab children. In the movie, Noam's mother fights the order, just as Fox's mother, Sarah, did in reality. Sarah tried to organize the Jewish and Arabic mothers to bring their children to play in the park together. As echoed in the movie, "we sat there and no one came," Fox recalled.

At U.S. screenings, he has been chastised by an older Jewish man for favoring Palestinians, and by an older Palestinian man for favoring Jews. But showing the suffering on both sides, and the reasons for the fear and bias, is necessary to see a way past it, Fox said. "Maybe this sounds too goody-goody or simplistic, but I think that's the only way to understand each other, and eventually help ourselves solve the situation."

It's important for Fox to stay connected to the Jewish world in America. "That has to do with my father and the way he brought us up, the relation between the Diaspora and Israel," he said. "Even if the film is not as easy for audiences, it's important to me for them to see it and deal with it."

The film resonated for Fox and his father on a personal level as well. Seymour Fox took a long time to come to terms with his son's sexual identity and his partnership with Uchovsky, but eventually accepted both. " 'The Bubble' was, for me, a very important stage of our relationship," said Fox. "He sat next to me at the premiere in Tel Aviv, and he really understood the film, he cried and was very emotional about what the film was trying to do. When it was over he got up and hugged me, still crying. And my father wouldn't do that in public, he didn't show emotions that way." Seymour Fox died a week later of a heart attack.

The film's title speaks to the fantasy world -- liberal, peaceful, accepting -- that many young Tel Aviv residents try to maintain to escape the darker realities of life, one that's always on the verge of bursting.

Those realities permeate even Fox's lighter works. His first feature was a pretty straight romantic comedy called "Song of the Siren." Although not intended as a career move, it proved canny. Homegrown romantic comedies are rare in Israel; "Siren" was the country's biggest box office hit of 1994. But even in that breezy film, the backdrop was war -- the first Gulf War to be precise. The female lead, a precursor to Bridget Jones or Carrie Bradshaw, endures her share of misadventures amid gas masks and bomb shelters. Said Fox, "You can't get rid of those wars if you live in Israel."

The hopeful period during Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's peace efforts and the aftermath of his assassination provided the setting for Fox's follow-up project "Florentine." The television series about a community of hip twentysomethings living in Tel Aviv broke a number of taboos. One character even came out to his family as they watched the Rabin funeral on TV. Two psychologist friends of Fox's told him that they had patients who came out to their parents after watching Fox's show. "If I've helped people do that, I'm content," he said.

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