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Star-crossed in the Mideast

'The Bubble,' an erotic, lightly comic gay love story between a Jew and a Palestinian in Tel Aviv, takes a turn toward the tragic.

September 07, 2007|Robert Abele | Special to The Times

The title of Israeli writer-director Eytan Fox's new film, "The Bubble," is a pejorative reference to youthful myopia, namely in the trendy Sheiken Street district in modern Tel Aviv, where twentysomething progressivism may feel more like a cool romantic spirit than something politically urgent.

For the trio of mixed-orientation roommates -- romantically volatile T-shirt designer Lulu (Daniela Wircer), flamboyant cafe manager Yali (Alon Friedmann) and soft-spoken record store worker Noam (Ohad Knoller) -- who share a cramped apartment and a sexy liberal lifestyle, the Palestinian-Israeli crisis bites, but a turbulent love affair or bad taste in music is more likely to provoke an endless discussion.

Of course, with a title like "The Bubble," something is going to burst, and it starts when Noam falls for Ashraf (Yousef "Joe" Sweid), a sweet-faced Palestinian man he first met as a weekend reservist on checkpoint duty. Spurred by the notion that Ashraf would rather stay in their love-one-love-all clique than with his conservative family in Nablus -- where his sister is set to marry a militant member of Hamas -- the three get him a Hebrew name and a job at Yali's restaurant and include him in their plans to throw an anti-occupation rave at the beach.

Ashraf and Noam love each other, but as Ashraf's particular pressures mount -- being gay in a homophobic Arab culture, feeling caught between two nations, but perhaps more urgently needing to avoid capture as an undocumented Arab -- he starts to withdraw, and suddenly the frisky idealism of Noam and his friends begins to feel like a dangerous cluelessness.

In one sharply conveyed sequence, Lulu and Noam pretend to be credentialed French journalists so they can get through a checkpoint and look in on a scared Ashraf hibernating in his Arab community. Although their ruse threatens to expose Ashraf's double life, their demeanor is that of role-playing children on a lark.

Content to flit between light comedy, eroticism and relationship operatics for much of the time, director Fox -- whose previous films include the controversial gay Israeli soldier tale "Yossi & Jagger" -- gives his beautiful dreamers plenty of leeway to win us over. To that end, he's assembled a vibrant, brimming cast and given the talented Sweid a role that brings out all that is liberating and terrifying about a conflicted soul trapped in an ancient standoff.

It's only when "The Bubble" takes a swift turn into domino-tipping tragedy in the final act that a tender, fraught love story feels casually discarded in favor of something psychologically pat and ham-fistedly earth-shattering. Ironically, for an otherwise engaging look at where politics and the personal confusedly intersect for a generation of youth trying their best to keep the grimmer realities of their world at bay, it's the only real false note.

"The Bubble." Unrated. In Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd. (323) 848-3500; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena (626) 844-6500; and Regal/Edwards University Town Center 6, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine, (949) 854-8818.

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