It seems to be the week for epistolary romances at the Fine Arts. Both A Bottle in the Gaza Sea and The Lunchbox fall into this select category — albeit in very different ways. A Bottle in the Gaza Sea may start with a very ancient form of communication — a message in a bottle — but it soon moves to the modern world of e-mail exchanges. The film’s premise has a 17-year-old French Jewish girl — a recent transplant to Israel — named Tal (Agathe Bonitzer) having her brother, an Israeli soldier (Ambraham Belaga) throw her bottled message into the sea where it will float in Palestinian territory. Her message is a question — she wants to know how people can allow themselves to be turned into suicide bombers. The message is intercepted 20-year-old Palestinian Naim (Mahmud Shalaby), who opts to respond to the e-mail account she’s set up for the purpose. What begins very cautiously blooms into a correspondence — with more than a hint of romance — that changes both their worldiviews and their lives.
Yes, it’s definitely sentimental and somewhat contrived, but it’s also splendidly done. The film manages to generate some genuine tension, especially where Naim is concerned, because communicating with an Israeli is seen as close to collaborating with — and possibly informing — the enemy. This is also where the film runs up against a problem it never completely surmounts, because Naim’s situation and life seem so much more real and interesting than Tal’s. Many of her problems seem pretty generic teen stuff by comparison, despite the film’s best efforts. However, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea is otherwise so winningly done that it’s hard to mind too much. The film has been criticized for being simplistic, but I don’t think that’s fair. It’s essentially a star-crossed lovers story. Sure, it has something to say, but it hardly feels like it’s out to change the world — only a very small part of it. And in that regard, it succeeds with sincere feelings and a beguiling charm
The Asheville Jewish Film Festival and Fine Arts Theatre will screen A Bottle in the Gaza Sea April 17 at 7 p.m. with an encore showing on Friday, April 18 at 1 p.m. Admission is $8.50.