This movie just came out in France. No US release date yet, though it will certainly make it there at some point. It’s based on the 2005 novel of the same name by the Franco-Israeli writer Valéry Zenatti, which was aimed at a teenage readership (here and here). The story, as recounted in the pic, is of an Israeli girl in Jerusalem age 17-18—of a recent aliya French family—who, in response to a terrorist bombing in J’lem, writes a letter—in English, and with an email address—to Palestinians asking why such attacks are perpetrated, which she puts in a bottle and has tossed in the Mediterranean, so it will float down to Gaza and presumably be found and read by someone there, thus starting a dialogue via the Internet. Which is precisely what happens, with a 20 year-old guy in Gaza city. The reaction is initially mocking and negative from the Gazawi but the interaction becomes friendly and, as an inevitable boy-girl dynamic develops, increasingly intimate.
In the movie the story begins in 2007 and continues for two years to mid-2009, with Gaza under Hamas and spanning the winter 2008-09 war, which naturally introduces tension in the young people’s virtual relationship (as he is getting bombed and her brother is in the army). Movies that take up the theme of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict usually risk being cliché-ridden, biased toward one side or the other, and/or replete with bons sentiments—and particularly the latter when romance across the ethno-confessional divide is mixed in (so close, yet so far away…)—, but this one managed to avoid it all. I thought it was a touching film and not at all bad for what it was. What really carried it were the performances of the main characters, the young French actress Agathe Bonitzer, who plays the Israeli girl, and the Israeli Arab actor Mahmud Shalaby—the beau gosse who starred in ‘Jaffa’ and ‘Les Hommes libres’—, who plays the Gaza guy. Both were very good in the roles. Even initially dubious French critics were finally won over to the film on the strength of their performances (French reviews are mostly good). As the father of a teenage girl the same age as the one in the film—who who thus knows something about kids this age and how they are with their parents—, I thought her character was well done. I wondered during the movie of how it was going to end—as a hokey or clichéd ending could have tarnished the whole thing—, but it was just as it should have been.
In films on Israel-Palestine—and I make a point to see all of them—I am extra vigilant in detecting goofs, implausibilities, factual errors, and distortions of the historical record. There were hardly any in this one. Maybe just two: the Shalaby character mastered the French language—from a class he enrolled in at the Gaza Alliance Française—just a little too quickly and the Israeli girl’s family, we learned, was from the Paris banlieue Créteil. This was maybe a little too clever on the part of the writers (Zenatti and director Thierry Binisti). Créteil, which I know well, has a sizeable Jewish population, mainly Orthodox Sephardis from Tunisia and Morocco. But this family was Ashkenanzi and looked to be secular. They would have probably been from Paris itself or some other banlieue. It’s just a tiny detail. Ce n’est pas bien grave.
The pic was shot in Israel—with the Gaza parts in an Israeli Arab town, the name of which I couldn’t catch from the credits—and was in English, French, Arabic, and Hebrew.