Eytan Fox has not simply witnessed a radical, queer-friendly shift within his home country of Israel in the last decade; many credit Fox’s films themselves with a large part of the change.
The celebrated gay director and writer’s new film The Bubble pushes boundaries even further by not only examining gay life in Tel Aviv, but also taking on what may well be considered an even more shocking stigma: the love between two men, one Israeli, one Palestinian, in a country where a century of hatred —rooted in sovereign territory rights —deeply divides the two lands.
On the phone from Tel Aviv, Fox is clearly passionate about his craft and the positives that he hopes stems from it.
“Part of what I am doing in the film, and I hope that is clear, is trying to describe just how difficult life is in Israel, how overwhelming for young people it is. Just the fact that people have to go to the Army and be involved in occupation —in war —that young people should not be involved in. Young people should be going to university, discovering who they are, having love, sex, not things that older people have made them do. That is part of what The Bubble is trying to do.”
The film’s title, according to Fox, refers to the dichotomy of those who live in wartime but thrive in a vibrant alternative area of downtown Tel Aviv.
Fox further sees the creation of a ‘bubble’ as a survival mechanism for those seeking refuge from political and religious difficulties.
The Bubble’s lead actor, Ohad Knoller (who also starred in Fox’s Yossi & Jagger, winner of GLAAD’s Outstanding Film in 2004 and the Toronto Gay and Lesbian Film Fest’s Audience Award) plays a gay man in both films, although The Bubble’s key love scene is significantly more erotic and detailed.
While Knoller never previously had a problem portraying a gay man on camera, Fox recalls the days of difficulty surrounding the filming of The Bubble’s lovemaking scenes.
“Ohad is straight and never told me of the troubles for him. Then, when we were working on The Bubble, the sex scenes were more difficult for him; we reached a point where it was hard to work together for a day or two, so I took him to a very serious conversation. In that conversation, things he didn’t tell me before came out.
“On one hand, he’s an actor, but on the other hand he’s a typical old-fashioned Israeli man. He went to the Army —I did too, everyone does —but he went into this elite fighting unit and he still does reserve duty. I don’t anymore and a lot of my friends find ways of getting out of it, but he wanted to do it. It seems that when he leaves his world of television and movies and goes for a month a year to his fighting unit, he gets a lot of comments.
“On one hand they admire him for being a celebrity, on the other, they make jokes, ‘be careful with Ohad.’ He had a tough father, comments from the Army, and everyone was pressuring him to feel more difficult with these scenes, with the film and with me. We talked about it for a very long day and reached an intimate place in our discussions so that he could go ahead in a very devoted way. We had a breakthrough as a straight actor and gay director.
“With racism or homophobia, the way to deal with it to is put it on the table and say: ‘I have this difficulty, what can I do? I grew up in a very macho, militaristic, patriarchal society and these things are inside of me. I have these difficulties. If I deny that, that will stay there, even grow.’
“The fact that we were able to talk about it and overcome the difficulties by talking about it, it was an emotional moment between the two of us and I felt, like his director, like I had achieved something, to help him move from point A to point B. I was very happy about that.”
Fox’s commercial and critical success in a host of television and movie productions containing queer content, has brought change not only in daily Israeli society, but also furthered acceptance from the Israeli army, which has gone from banning the use of its tanks and uniforms (during the filming of Yossi & Jagger) to offering to build a fake checkpoint for The Bubble.
“I realize that we are changing attitudes with our film,” Fox states, his voice solemn. “By creating empathy and the feel of people who identify with the characters, the compliment I was getting from tough Israeli men was ‘at the end of the movie, we completely forgot they were gay!’ I could be insulted by such a compliment, but coming from these tough Israeli soldiers, the fact that they could identify with a gay love story was great!”
When asked if he uses his films specifically to make political statements about present-day life for queers in Israel or Palestine, Fox struggles to answer.
Ultimately, he says he prefers to “make a film that is trying to portray a slice of my life and my concern and worlds that I know, places I care about, and I realize that this all comes to a political statement of some kind. But it is more human and personal and has to do with people and relationships rather than big declarations.”
He is pleased that his films have helped battle homophobia in his homeland, but says Israel has a much bigger battle ahead. “I hope one day that people can look at The Bubble and say: ‘This was history, now there is love between Palestinian and Israeli couples.’ One day, I hope this problem will be history. Usually you want your film to be relevant forever, yet I pray that one day this film will be not relevant.”