If The Bubble writer-director Eytan Fox is to be believed, the key to peace in the Middle East is generation-Y disengagement and the pleasure-seeking impulse: Sure, Israelis and Palestinians could keep fighting over the same piece of land, but wouldn't it be more fun to just screw, do drugs, and dance instead? Admittedly, compared to modern Middle Eastern politics, Fox's gay cross-cultural take on Romeo And Juliet features a compelling take on life, but his title and dialogue make it clear that the action is taking place in an unreal little bubble, and the many awkward artificialities just emphasize the point.
As The Bubble opens, young Israeli National Guard soldier Ohad Knoller meets Palestinian man Yousef Sweid at an Israeli checkpoint, during a tragedy that briefly touches them both. Later, Sweid seeks out Knoller in his Tel Aviv apartment to return his dropped ID, and they launch a sedate relationship. Like so many gay romances, The Bubble tries to idealize young gay life, but in the process, winds up presenting it as weirdly homey, placid, and dull; after one night of muted passion, Sweid and Knoller settle down like old marrieds, with the only problems in their lives being the risk of Sweid being arrested for illegally lingering in Tel Aviv without authority. Knoller's roommates—disapproving gay café manager Alon Friedman and free-spirited designer Daniela Virtzer—get Sweid a job and help him pass as Israeli, and briefly, the four young people enjoy a low-key, slackery existence, troubled only by Friedman and Virtzer's separate relationship traumas, and the general public's failure to react well to their "rave against the occupation" and its shouted slogan, "We don't need the Territories, we need to dance!"
Inevitably, the real world encroaches, as Sweid is forced to return home to the more repressive culture of Nablus, where his new brother-in-law (a radical Palestinian named Jihad, in one of several excessive touches) demands he marry instantly. From there, Fox (who also directed the gay Israeli drama Yossi & Jagger) and co-writer Gal Uchovsky overextend their story, sprawling in too many unconvincing directions, while criminally forgetting to give Knoller a character of his own; he's just another bland, smiling face in the crowd. But then, the same could be said of the film as a whole. It's well-intentioned and intermittently charming, in a grainy, low-key, lo-fi kind of way, and its heart-on-sleeve idealism is raggedly charming. But just as there's no real passion to Knoller and Sweid's performances or their relationship, there's no real fire to the film. Real love is often as complicated and painful as Middle Eastern politics, and Fox might have been better off acknowledging that, rather than making his characters such vague, sweet, safe ciphers.