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Tai is 17 years old. Naim is 20. She's Israeli. He's Palestinian. She lives in Jerusalem. He lives in Gaza. They were born in a land of scorched earth, where fathers bury their children. They must endure an explosive situation that is not of their choosing at an age where young people are falling in love and taking their place in adult life. A bottle thrown in the sea and a correspondence by email nurture the slender hope that their relationship might give them the strength to confront this harsh reality to grapple with it, and thereby ever so slightly change it. Only 60 miles separate them but how many bombings, check-points, sleepless nights and bloodstained days stand between them? Written by
'Une bouteille à la mer' or A Bottle in the Gaza Sea is at once an incredibly tender love story restricted to the Internet and an intensive exploration of both side of the Israeli and Palestinian dilemma that begs for resolution. The story is by Valérie Zenatti and has been adapted for the screen and directed by French writer/director Thierry Binisti. While the content of the relationship between the main characters is fragile it serves as an exposé of how seemingly impossible life must be living in that small area of the world so vulnerable to repeated hostilities.
The film opens sensitively at the beach - there is a barbed wire barricade separating parts of the beach - and a young man (Eytan Levine
Abraham Belaga) is throwing a whiskey bottle into the ocean. Inside
the bottle is a letter from Etyan's sister Tal (Agathe Bonitzer) requesting that whoever finds the bottle to please email her where the bottle was found and who found it. Tal is 17 and has recently moved from France to Jerusalem with her family. She is puzzled by the constant hostilities between the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and the Israelis. When the bottle is discovered it is found by young Naim (Mahmud Shalaby) who at 20 years of age still lives with his mother Intessar (the brilliant actress Hiam Abbass) who works in a hospital (the father is dead) and Naim makes a living delivering Tee Shirts with his cousin whose father makes the Tee Shirts. There is constant strife in Gaza with the Hamas entering homes and abusing citizens suspected of being traitors and Naim lives in fear after he is interrogated one night. Naim emails Tal in response to her request for identity of the recipient of her letter and very gradually the two grow to know each other by email. Only 60 miles separate them but many bombings, check-points, sleepless nights and bloodstained days stand between them. Knowing that Tal is French encourages Naim to study French at the French Cultural Institute and his success in earning Tal's language results in his applying for a fellowship to study French in Paris.
The Israelis wage war against the Palestinians and Tal's brother Etyan goes to Gaza to fight. Tal fears for her brother and for Naim. But Naim has found a way out of Gaza by leaving for France - a journey that must begin with crossing through endless barriers to reach Israel to fly to France. Tal and Naim come close to actually meeting at the end of the film but the rest of the story must remain untold for those who have not seen the film.
Rarely has a film so judiciously and sensitively show both the Palestinian view as well as the Israeli view in the constant struggle that seems without end. This film will do more to inform the public about the conflict while sharing one of the most delicate of relationships ever written - the relationship is so very much a mirror of the meanings behind the Israeli Palestinian conflict. It is a rare jewel of a movie. Highly recommended.
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