A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
Directed by Thierry Binisti
Starring Agathe Bonitzer, Mahmud Shalaby, Hiam Abbass
In Hebrew and French with English subtitles
"Romeo and Juliet" is transplanted to the Middle East in "A Bottle in the Gaza Sea," a movie about an Internet correspondence that blossoms into an online romance between two people doomed by the world's most volatile geopolitical conflict.
Naim (Mahmud Shalaby) is a 20-year-old Gaza resident. Tal (Agathe Bonitzer) is a 17-year-old Jewish French immigrant to Israel. They live mere miles apart, but in totally different worlds. They can't meet, they can't speak, and they certainly can't be friends.
The film's concept - Naim retrieves a message in a bottle sent from Tal into the Mediterranean, soliciting a Gaza resident's point of view on things - is contrived. But filmmaker Thierry Binisti, adapting a young adult novel by Valérie Zenatti (with the author as his co-screenwriter) overcomes the improbable hook with a fair-minded approach that emphasizes the struggles and joys of life on both sides of the barrier.
The movie seamlessly transitions between Tal's Western-oriented life in Israel and Naim's claustrophobic Gaza existence. Emailing isn't the most cinematic endeavor, but the filmmaker crafts enough compelling drama away from the computers. The messages effectively comment on the protagonists' uncertain realities.
Of course, "A Bottle in the Gaza Sea" arrives a few months after the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians exploded into an eight-day exchange of rockets and airstrikes. Subjects don't get more topical or polarizing. But Binisti resists editorializing.
This is the story of two empathetic people who dream big dreams and find a common understanding in the face of impossible difficulties. No matter where your sympathies lie, it's hard not to get behind that.