Eytan Fox renews the courage of Martin Sherman's landmark 1979 play Bent with his bittersweet new film, whose title alludes to the psychological headspace of people trying to reconcile the ethnic politics of their surroundings. Noam (Ohad Knoller), a music store clerk, meets Ashraf (Youself Sweid) during a tense confrontation at a checkpoint between Israel and Palestine, and their bourgeoning relationship reflects the complex anxieties of those gripped by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. At a performance of Bent in Tel Aviv, the boys lock hands during the crucial scene when Max and Horst make love to each other without touching, but Noam and Ashraf's intimacy is not only an acknowledgement of the progress gays have made since the Holocaust but a private expression of their own impossible love.
The Bubble is a kissing cousin of the British version of Queer as Folk, wittily dramatizing what it's like for gay men to live and love in Tel Aviv while demonstrating a rare desire to rouse social and racial awareness. Alon Freidmann, as Noam's best friend and roommate Yelli, brings the queeny type Peter Paige essayed in the atrocious U.S. version of Queer as Folk back to planet Earth. His relationship to Golan (Zohar Liba), a former military man, confronts the attitudes of people who are galvanized by machismo—the same feelings that were given the tawdry, soap-operatic once-over on Queer as Folk when Paige's Emmett Honeycutt fell for a professional football player. Yelli doesn't accept the abuse that comes to Golan so unconsciously simply because he understands Golan's behavior as a byproduct of a culture energized by aggression but because Golan gives expression to his own secret prejudices. The film's coup is how it illuminates the cracks in people's good will.
"So, that's how Jews kiss," says Ashraf to Noam. Later, Noam counters during post-coital bliss, "So, that's how Arabs do it." These cute boys, though advocates of peace with fond memories of mothers who inspired their naïve but sincere political beliefs, contradictorily struggle to keep politics out of their personal lives, and these exchanges represent the passive-aggressive extent to which they cope with the social reality of their relationship. Fox alternately sympathizes with and disparages this behavior, as in Yelli—after giving Ashraf a makeover, a Hebrew name, and hiring him to work at his restaurant one day—tells Noam that it "doesn't feel real" to have Ashraf living with them and their fag hag Lulu (Daniella Wircer) in a Tel Aviv apartment.
Fox shows how Palestinian and Israeli lives are inextricably bound and the way sexuality impacts ethnic conflict: When Ashraf's future brother-in-law, a Hamas leader, commands a bomb to explode in Tel Aviv, Yelli is left injured, and a visit by Golan in the hospital outs Yelli to his parents; later, Ashraf's sister, who painfully rejects her brother after he comes out to her, is killed by the bullet meant for her husband. Rana (Roba Blal) and Jihad's (Shredy Jabarin) wedding ceremony is, for Ashraf, a succession of small humiliations, but there still isn't enough focus on Ashraf's struggle to reconcile his sexuality with his ethnic identity, so it is understandable if some accuse Fox of abusing a queer agenda. Insufficiently accounting for Noam and Ashraf's sense of self-realization, Fox caps a perceptive film with a poignant but curious show of self-defeatism that succeeds only at dually romanticizing and trivializing terror.