Gal Uchovsky may be excused if he feels like he’s floating. Since the release in the summer of 2006 of The Bubble, his latest film with his professional and personal partner Eytan Fox, the Israeli producer’s life has been a series of premieres, screenings, film festivals and awards.
And now, almost a year later, the acclaimed movie – described as a Romeo and Juliet story set in Tel Aviv with star-crossed lovers who are both men, one a Palestinian and one an Israeli – is having its American theater debut this weekend in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Uchovsky and Fox, whose credits include Walk On Water and Yossi and Jagger, have spent most of the year explaining what exactly the ‘bubble’ in the title refers to.
As timing would have it, the film’s Israeli release coincided with the breakout of the Second Lebanon War, an event which propelled the film into current events. Commentators began talking about the ‘bubble’ of Israelis living in the Tel Aviv area who were not being bombed by Hizbullah katyusha rockets and were continuing to lead their lives on the beaches, in the cafes and in the clubs of Tel Aviv. Which, according to Uchovsky, dovetailed nicely into the premise of the The Bubble, in a concise example of life imitating art.
“The ‘bubble’ is a term that’s been in use for many years – we didn’t create it. But we did bring it back to the forefront with the movie,” Uchovsky told ISRAEL21c last week before leaving Israel to attend the New York premiere.
“It’s a term used by Israelis to describe the heart of Tel Aviv – young people who are living their lives and don’t concern themselves with the ‘matsav’ (the political situation in Israel). And it’s true – there is a bubble in Tel Aviv. And it’s not only with young people. Life in Israel is hard, and the bubble protects them from being obsessed with war all the time,” he added.
While some residents of Israel were in shelters hiding from the katyushas or en route to safer parts of the country, others were cramming movie theaters helping to make The Bubble one of the most popular movies of 2006. But beyond ticket sales, Uchovsky thinks the film had a bigger social benefit – bringing the issue of the Tel Aviv ‘bubble’ to the table for all sides to comment on.
“I think that by bringing this concept out in the open, we created a dialogue about it that made it bigger than when we started. There was a debate about it – especially when the war in Lebanon was taking place last summer – that people in Tel Aviv were not participating, we weren’t being bombed. At some point, people said that those in the bubble were not being patriotic,” said Uchovsky.
“First of all, all people live in bubbles to an extent. The kibbutz society, the settlements, most people live in their little environments and don’t see any farther than their noses. The only question is who gets to write down history? The one who writes it makes their own bubble.”
Uchovsky’s version of ‘the bubble’ is the one that has captivated audiences at film festivals around the world. It had its international debut at the Toronto Film Festival, and soon after that was screened at the Berlin Film Festival. Sold for commercial release in over 30 countries, one of the film’s first general releases was in France in July, where it was met with rave reviews and strong attendance.
“Le Monde gave it a great review. The French may be accused of being anti-Semitic, but they sure aren’t to our films,” Uchovsky laughed.
The Bubble is not exactly family fare, or even the kind of material American Jewish audiences are used to seeing from Israeli filmmakers. The story of three young Tel Aviv friends – two men and a women – who share an apartment in the city’s trendy Shenkin Street area, the film perfectly captures the rhythm of life for young, secular Israelis. Their lives, however, change forever when one of the men meets a Palestinian while doing his reserve duty at a military checkpoint. Both lighthearted and dramatic, the film touches a nerve for anyone who sees it.
“In some screenings, people during the Q and A would say things like ‘it’s too left wing because of the way you portrayed the checkpoints’,” he recalls.
“Then we were in a festival in Dublin, and someone got up and said it was ‘Jewish fascist Israeli propaganda subsidized by the government to show how humane the army is while in reality you’re depriving Palestinians of their human rights.'”
“Between all those extremes, it’s us, telling a balanced story in a loving way. It’s the way we love Israel and the way we live here. I think it will give Americans a picture of an Israel they’re not aware of,” said Uchovsky.
Uchovsky and Fox, both in their 40s, are excited about the American premieres of the film, but they don’t anticipate a red carpet reception.
“We’ll be hosting a party in New York at the premier, but this isn’t a Hollywood movie – it’s going to play in art houses. That’s our destiny,” said Uchovsky with a laugh.
“I think American audiences will be able to understand the nuances about Israeli society portrayed by the film. It’s not the same as [their previous film] Walk on Water – a crowd pleaser that can appeal to an older crowd. For a 60-year-old American, this is more of a challenge to see. But I think that it’s worthwhile – it’s not an anti-audience movie.
“And while the subject matter is deemed controversial, it’s really not. I think dealing with subjects like the Holocaust is more controversial than an Israeli-Palestinian love story. I see it as a good story from Israel made by people who understand Israel and love Israel. You can’t dismiss or dislike something just because of its message. My father said it was too left wing, but said it was a good movie.”