How else would a love story between a gay Arab man and a gay Israeli man end? It’s like the story of the Titanic — optimistic in concept but a tragedy in the end.
No, I’m not really spoiling the film’s story by describing that much because The Bubble, for the most part, is uplifting.
The story is set in Tel Aviv, the gay-friendly Israeli city with a thriving bohemian scene. While performing his required Israeli military service, Noam (Ohad Knoller) encounters Ashraf (Yusef Sweid) at border checkpoint. A pregnant Arab woman goes into labor, and Noam treats the woman while Ashraf serves as translator. Ashraf later tracks Noam down in Tel Aviv to give him back his lost ID card, and one magical night later, Ashraf decides to stay with Noam.
Noam and Ashraf spend a number of weeks taking in the liberal atmosphere of Tel Aviv, organizing a rave to promote peace. Ashraf’s sister, however, is getting married, and he returns to his hometown to participate in the ceremonies. A car bomb detonated in Tel Aviv, however, thrusts Noam’s friends and Ashraf’s family into the strife, and the bubble of Tel Aviv’s care-free life bursts under the weight of a bigger struggle.
Once again, director Etyan Fox fashions a wonderful story pitting the smaller picture — two people in love — against the larger one — two nations at war. Love in a time of war is a sturdy narrative backdrop, but it’s made even more compelling when the lovers in question are the same sex. The war, in this case, has two fronts.
Fox paints Tel Aviv as an exuberantly forward oasis, free from centuries of mistrust and hatred. The "real world" eventually intrudes, but until then, the Bubble, as the city is known, is resiliently optimistic.
The Bubble, however, is not a feel-good movie in the Hollywood sense. Ashraf must still conceal he’s an Arab, and the threat of being exposed looms over his relationship with Noam. The final scene when Ashraf and Noam reunite is beautifully heartbreaking and in its own strange way, terribly romantic.
As sad as the ending may be, it’s the one that makes most sense, and Fox does a tremendous job making sure the unraveling of events doesn’t feel so sudden. It’s a telling situation when the gay aspect of an Arab-Israeli romance is less problematic.
The film’s secondary stories — Noam’s friends each trying to navigate their own relationships — establish the character of Tel Aviv. Lulu (Daniela Wircer) attempts to attract the attention of hunky alternative newspaper journalist Shaul (Zion Baruch), while Yelli (Alon Freidmann) wonders whether his soldier boyfriend Golan (Zohar Liba) shares his more leftist views.
As with Yossi and Jagger, Fox deftly juggles the multiple layers of conflict in this film — Arab vs. Jew, out of the closet vs. in — to deliver a story that revels in joy, despite a toxic environment.