This week we watched two films by Israeli Eytan Fox and discussed, through our fairly limited perspectives, their problematic depoliticization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We also buried some more gays. It was a grand old time.
Yossi & Jagger, from 2002, is a relatively quiet, day-in-the-life story of two soldiers who are in a relationship. The fact that they’re Israeli soldiers is completely depoliticized. There’s no outside indication that the other soldiers would have a problem with them coming out; it’s one of those questionable situations where a character’s homophobia is entirely internalized and has no clear outside source – like, what, is Yossi oppressing himself? As our reading explained, the movie contributes to pinkwashing – that is to say, painting Israel as very queer-positive as a means of propaganda to promote Israel as generally progressive regardless of whatever else is going on in the country. No one comes out – in fact, Jagger, who wants to come out, DIES – so the military itself is never put at any kind of risk of association with queerness.
The Bubble was made four years later and gets more political, but also more horrifying. So Tel Aviv has this bubble effect of being – or being portrayed as – a kind of queer haven, and the film follows a group of Tel Aviv kids who welcome a gay Arabic kid into their group. This inspires them to take political action and vouch for peace and no more fighting. But they don’t… actually educate themselves about what’s happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or what’s really happening in Ashraf’s life. And when the movie does show us Ashraf’s life it’s just endless, stereotypical suffering.
The movie is basically all Israeli kids ignorantly wishing for things to just be the way they are in Tel Aviv everywhere, and the movie doesn’t really… call them out on this… So, like, The Bubble is more political than Yossi & Jagger, but also… is it?
Let me tell you about how this movie ends, if I can manage to summarize it. Ashraf’s sister’s husband arranges her death to make her into a political martyr to justify attacks against Israel. Somehow as a result of this, and the fact that the husband is trying to force Ashraf to marry a woman, Ashraf offers to be a suicide bomber, and he goes and bombs a place that his Israeli lover frequents, killing them both. And then there’s this voiceover, from the Israeli lover, about how there was no place in the real world for them to happily be together and maybe this will teach people to love one another or whatever the fuck.
So, like, okay, I understand the symbolism, but also, the movie made no effort to understand the Palestinian perspective or paint it as anything other than stereotypical. As an outside viewer I’ve learned basically nothing except that young people in Tel Aviv are ignorant to what is actually happening and, honestly, I feel like the movie accidentally promotes the idea that anyone who wants peace is ignorant rather than that they have the right idea or whatever? Nothing… productive or helpful… really happened here.
In terms of actual watching experience, I did really enjoy both of these movies… in part. I was stressed out the first time I watched Yossi & Jagger because I kept waiting for something terrible to happen, because I knew EXACTLY what would eventually happen. The second time around – because I watched it for homework and then we watched it in class – I was able to relax because I knew I wouldn’t have to deal until the last ten minutes, and while some of the other things that happen are questionable, the character stuff is really enjoyable.
Similarly, The Bubble was stressful because I spent the whole movie waiting for disaster to strike, although this time nothing in the world could have prepared me to guess how this one would end. Still, though, it’s a fun, funny, enjoyable movie that feels very 2006, plus you’re learning about a new culture, except for the growing awareness that the info you’re getting is very one-sided and has a weird agenda that you don’t fully grasp until the last five minutes. If you take out those last five minutes, The Bubble is a fun, kind of weird, and kind of problematic movie.
That being said: I am fucking sick of watching queer characters die. I am sick of watching queer characters suffer. I’m tired. Let our lives be complicated. Let them have good and bad. Let them be as they are.
See you next Friday when we talk about Fire, an Indian film from 1996, and I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, a Malaysian film from 2006.