Thursday, November 29, 2007

Movie Review: Ha'Buah (The Bubble)

Another "almost-but-not-quite" effort by Israeli filmmaker Eitan Fox, who - bless his little activist heart - keeps bringing up social issues in the most anvilicious and preachy ways imaginable.

Fox's movies are particularly frustrating, though, because he has a great knack for creating sympathetic and believable characters, and he always starts off so well, but his three most noteworthy movies - "The Bubble", "Walk on Water" and "Yossi and Jagger" - all implode during the final act, collapsing under the weight of the Issues (and I use that term in the Winickian Beat-You-With-A-Stick-Until-You-Get-It sense here) piled onto them.

The titular Bubble refers to Shenkin, a small area of Tel-Aviv where teenagers spend their time totally isolated from reality. This is something Fox actually depicts very well: Noam, Yali and Lulu see themselves as activists, lobbying to support the Palestinian cause and the desire for peace, but they don't actually do anything beyond staging raves which only they and their friends attend. This isn't to say that they're insincere, far from it - they just have no idea what they're talking about, because they're cut off from the real world.

The trouble starts when Ashraf, a Palestinian from Nablus, penetrates the Bubble by falling in love with Noam. It's a doomed relationship, of course - Ashraf finds acceptance and comfort in Tel-Aviv, but he doesn't belong there and he knows it, and Fox is basically using this as a vehicle to blame society for putting that wall up between them. There's no way Noam and Ashraf can have a happy ending, through no fault of their own.

Now, if that were the sum total of the plot, "The Bubble" would've actually turned out to be a much stronger movie. The problem is that, as with his previous films, the third act and the climax veer almost completely away from what had been going on up to that point. For most of the movie, we're concerned not just with Noam and Ashraf but with the colorful and interesting secondary characters (just what was Golan's deal anyway?), and suddenly we're moving into political tensions and suicide bombers and characters making decisions that don't really gel with what they'd been doing before.

I can sort of see Fox's point here - bursting our own "bubble" by interrupting the love story with some harsh reality - but while his social agendas are admirable, the resulting thud as you're beaned in the head with a bag full of Issue Bricks only leaves you with a migraine. Once the storyline turns to Ashraf's sister and her terrorist husband, I couldn't help feeling like I wanted to fast-forward through that part: again, Fox does such good work with the set-up, it makes the eventual derailing all the more annoying.

That said, I have to give the man props for finally overcoming a specific stumbling block: I'd always felt that "Walk on Water" and "Yossi and Jagger" lacked any kind of emotional impact at the end, because the Issues ended up pushing the characters to the wayside, so when they do reach some kind of psychological/dramatic climax, you don't much care anymore. But "The Bubble" ends with an especially poignant flashback narrated by Noam, and... I don't know, I thought it was genuinely touching. As though, for once, Fox managed to let the characters dig themselves out of the Issue Pit just long enough for one last glimpse.

And that'll do, I suppose. That'll do.