A Bottle in the Gaza Sea


On the heels of The Other Son comes another earnest, well-intentioned, slightly cloying French film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Thierry Binisti’s A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, adapted from Valérie Zenatti’s popular novel. The rather contrived premise: Pretty French-Israeli teen Tal (Agathe Bonitzer) strikes up an online correspondence with Naim (Mahmoud Shalaby), an equally lovely young Palestinian man in the Gaza Strip. It’s Romeo and Juliet Middle East style—except the forbidden courtship is sublimated into e-mails (read aloud via voiceover) consisting, by turns, of ironically worded hostilities, pointed questions, idealistic flourishes, and the occasional weather report. Early scenes, in which Tal and Naim sit rapt in front of their inboxes, have a promising tension; Binisti and his appealing leads convey the almost compulsive desire to know the “other,” the strange forces of attraction beneath long-simmering resentment. The contrast between two lives is also deftly evoked, with sequences of Tal’s mostly pleasant routine in Jerusalem—school, family dinners, drunken house parties, and heart-to-hearts with hiply-dressed friends—juxtaposed against glimpses of Naim’s claustrophobic Gaza existence. But Binisti, whose background is in television, hits his marks too neatly and offers up too transparent a message for a situation steeped in ragged, confusing emotions. Although smoothly directed, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea has little visual personality or dramatic urgency. What might have been a tough and adult take on a bond full of hope but thwarted by war plays more like an after-school special.