Normally I wouldn’t touch a film about Israeli-Palestinian relations with a ten-foot pole. But there I was at 9:30 in the morning at the Beaubien Cinema, having just missed my matinée and having used up a good bus ticket, how could I turn down the offer to catch a free press screening? Had I known what A Bottle in the Gaza Sea was all about, I may have declined the offer. Indeed, I almost walked out after the opening sequence, where 17-year old Tal Lévine relives the suicide-bomb attack she experienced in a Jerusalem café. Rather than run out, I decided to give Bottle a chance. And, ultimately, that’s what the movie is all about, taking a chance on something that is difficult, something uncomfortable.
In order to make sense of her ordeal, Tal, a French citizen whose family made aliyah, decides to reach out to her Palestinian counterparts, inviting someone to contact her. Now, if putting a message in a bottle with one’s email address on it and tossing it out to sea with the hopes that someone will find it in your lifetime sounds improbable, well, it probably is. Yet when Tal’s bottle is found by a group of young Palestinian men hanging out on the beach, roughhousing and singing songs about beautiful women, we without hesitation suspend disbelief. I was immediately drawn into the unlikely story of how two young adults living parallel and complicated realities come to know each other and develop a friendship.
Of the guys on the beach, only Naïm is enticed to respond with sincerity to the message in the bottle. At their first anonymous online contact he tries to shatter Tal’s naïve desire for understanding. “How can we strap a bomb around our waist and walk into a café? Come here and we’ll show you… It is so easy for you, Peace-Girl; you don’t know anything,” he signs out as Gaza-Man. Tal is not put off by Naïm’s taunts, and challenges him to respond. Their clandestine internet communication grows and becomes dangerous, exciting, inspiring, and eventually turns into a true friendship. For Naïm, this relationship may be his only glimpse of life beyond the wall.
In fact, Naïm becomes much more curious about Tal and willing to communicate with her once he learns that she is French. He enrolls in a French class at the French Cultural centre in Gaza. “Le conditionnel est un temps indispensable pour le Palestinien,” he muses during class. I can certainly identify with the sentiment of life forever hinging on uncertainties and what if’s, however my uncertainties and what if’s aren’t dependant on living within walls that keep the world out, and keep me imprisoned and labeled as a suicide-bombing fanatic and criminal. Nonetheless, French class captivates Naïm’s imagination. “Une pierre, deux maisons, trois ruines, quatre fossoyeurs, un jardin, des fleurs….” One stone, two homes, three ruins, four gravediggers, a garden, some flowers. “Sounds like Palestine, n’est-ce pas?” he jokes to his fellow students. There is something soothing and hopeful about Jacques Prévert’s poem Inventaire rolling off Naïm’s tongue, echoing the Gaza sea rolling in and out of the shore.
While Naïm’s soul is being inspired by the language of Molière, Tal’s heart is opening to the complexities of living alongside an occupied people. Naïm eventually earns his freedom by way of a bursary to study in Paris. He makes his way through the border crossing – a high-walled, grey, concrete passage, with giant turnstiles, and armored gates. All is quiet on the other side, except for the trill of a songbird, and a slim sunbeam reaching towards the sky.
A Bottle in the Gaza Sea (Une Bouteille dans la Mer de Gaza)
A film by Thierry Binisti, now playing at Cinema du Parc, AMC and Cinema Beaubien.
Deborah Kramer is a writer, mother, and aspiring urban beekeeper.