Idit Gan-Zvi’s documentary follows a maladjusted Israeli couple running a gardening hothouse business in occupied Gaza. Yakov, a once-prominent extrovert who retreated to near-seclusion following his disfigurement in a roadside assault, founded the business years earlier. His wife Ronit took over the daily operations for the business, but she finds herself torn by double pressures: the need to relocate the business following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and the emotional hardship created by Yakov’s increasingly difficult behavior. A looming threat of bankruptcy and the stress created by their forced relocation makes life unpleasant for the couple, and their marriage becomes a skein of bickering.
“Hothouse” is a painful film to endure as Yakov and Ronit fight with their inner demons, with their tumultuous environment, and with each other. The film is, ultimately, about the inability to accept and adapt to change – Yakov in his physical angst due to his appearance, Ronit in her agitation to leave Gaza for an Israeli location for her business, and (by extension) the Israeli unwillingness to let go of occupied lands.
The latter consideration is particularly sharp, and non-Israeli observers might wonder why the film never questions the couple’s initial decision to settle in Palestinian territory under Israeli military control. The Israelis use the curious euphemism “disengagement” to describe their withdrawal from Gaza; if Yakov and Ronit have any friends or business acquaintances among the Palestinians, they are nowhere to be seen in the film.
Nonetheless, this disturbing view of a couple in crises provides a strong example of nonfiction filmmaking at its best. “Hothouse” might be a difficult film to like, but it demands and deserves the viewer’s respect.