A Bottle in the Gaza Sea

| April 2, 2013

To tell a simple story in the context of a complicated issue is not necessarily the same thing as telling a reductive story. A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, while at times extremely idealistic, highlights the universal dreamer and wisher that shine most especially in teenagers and young adults, with its story of friendship and the hope that friendship breeds.

Tal, having moved from France to Jerusalem with her family, is having a hard time adjusting to her surroundings and lives in constant fear of suicide bombers. She doesn’t understand the conflict and the violence, but in seeking to, she puts a message in a bottle and asks her brother, an Israeli soldier stationed in Gaza, to send it out to sea in hopes that it will reach someone and that she will forge a connection with someone on the other side.

When a group of young men find the message they laugh it off, but one of them feels compelled to respond. Naim, a young Palestinian man with intelligence, but lacking ambition, feels compelled by cynicism and anger to respond, but upon further e-mail correspondence, Tal and Naim challenge each other, bond and become an integral part of each other’s lives. Even amidst increasing regional and internal turmoil, the two young people form a basic human connection that brings to light realizations about one another and about themselves.

Directed by French filmmaker Thierry Binisti, and starring French actress Agathe Bonitzer as Tal and Israeli-Arab actor Mahmoud Shalaby as Naim, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea is successful in showing us the two distinct worlds of Gaza and Jerusalem, from the lifestyles and languages, cultures and convictions. The divide drawn in the film and the line draw between these two friends, is more than location and deeper than politics, and the protagonists reflect that complexity as well. They don’t end up on the same side or awaken those around them to a new perspective– all they know is that they want to be friends and that they want a different future.

Honest performances from Bonitzer and Shalaby anchor the film and engage viewers, and solid directing effectively balances the fear, anxiety and violence of life in the regions, with some sense of normality. A Bottle in the Gaza Sea humanizes everyone and polarizes no one, which is another strong point, but at the heart of the film there is optimism about friendship, not so much optimism about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is an expression of that feeling we all have when we make a true and lasting friend, that feeling of wanting to understand more, wanting to hurt less and wanting to be a better person.

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