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Gay Middle East
love story has people talking—and grumbling

Gay Middle East
love story has people talking—and grumbling

The deck seems stacked against Israeli filmmakers Eytan Fox and Gal Uchovsky, whose movie The Bubble held its international premiere at the Toronto Film Festival this week.

The movie's theme of a gay love affair between an Israeli and a Palestinian has alienated conservative audiences in Israel and abroad, while Europeans angry over Israeli attacks on Lebanon don't want to see Israeli films at all. To make matters worse, the movie, which has a strong antiwar message, opened in Israel just weeks before the latest Israel-Hezbollah war, and when war started most of the cinemas closed.

"It's not an easy movie to make. It's not as though people in Israel say, 'This is beautiful--wow, we love it'," said Uchovsky, one of the writers and producers of the film, which his partner, Fox, directed. "And then you go to the world, and the world hates you as well. It's hard."

Set in the self-centered "bubble" of Tel Aviv--a city reportedly out of touch with the rest of the country--the film is one of just two Israeli movies at the Toronto festival.

It is far more political--and far more gay--than Fox's previous movie Walk on Water, a bittersweet 2004 story of complex ties between Israelis, Germans, and Palestinians that became Israel's biggest-grossing movie.

The new film looks at what Fox describes as the "tormented region" of the Middle East through the eyes of Noam from Tel Aviv and Ashraf rom the Palestinian West Bank in a love affair that crashes up against politics at almost every turn.

But Fox told Reuters that the issues--including gay love, suicide bombers, and cultural misunderstandings--were in line with others that he and Uchovsky had handled in their movie-making careers.

"We've been dealing with explosive subjects and subjects that are not as easy to swallow and handle with all our films," he said, admitting that his dream was that the movie could one day be shown in Arab countries. "The films have reached audiences and created understanding between people."

But for now the challenge is finding festivals to screen Israeli films at all amid strong pro-Palestinian sentiment, especially in Europe, and distaste for the campaign against Hezbollah and the recent Israeli bombing in Lebanon.

"During and after the war, film festivals canceled screenings of Israeli films because of the negative sentiment against Israel, and I can understand some of these emotions, and I can identify with some of them," Fox said at the public screening of the movie.

"I think they made a mistake, because it is our job to make films. It's our job to use film as a means of dialogue even in the worst times when people are making terrible mistakes."

The film, which has close parallels to Shakespeare's tragedy, had the working title Romeo and Julio. But Fox switched to The Bubble to better reflect what is going on in Israel today.

"It sounded kind of corny, and we didn't want to just limit ourselves to the love story," he said. (Reuters)

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