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VISIONS DU RÉEL 2021 Competition

Review: The Bubble


- In Valerie Blankenbyl's fascinating documentary, the world's biggest retirement community is just getting bigger

Review: The Bubble

Let this number sink in – the retirement community The Villages, situated in sunny Florida, offers a refuge to, at least at the time of filming, over 150,000 residents. All are ready to finally put themselves first after years of work, sacrifice and, as it is repeatedly stated here, “shoveling the snow;” ready to get into their golf carts and start sipping some long-overdue margaritas.

As Valerie Blankenbyl shows in her very watchable doc The Bubble [+see also:
film profile
– world-premiering in Visions du Réel's Competition – there is no shortage of entertainment and activities thrown their way. Cardio drumming to Let's Get Loud, 70 swimming pools and 3000 social clubs keep everyone busy, so busy that their families are advised to check in first before paying a visit. It's all rather tempting, especially considering how lonely old age can be. And yet it comes as precisely no surprise, especially after witnessing the super-size of it all, that living at The Villages comes at a price. Not to its (mostly rather affluent) residents, however,, but to the environment and the local community, surrounded by the pastel-coloured monstrosity devouring everything in its sight.

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“What they sell, it’s a lifestyle,” says a local journalist when asked about the owners of what initially started out as a trailer park, but it's a very homogenous one. Most people here are white and conservative, they listen to a radio station that's an affiliate of the infamous Fox News, and are visibly glad to be sheltered from the rest of the world. “We know we are in a bubble,” admits one of them openly. “But it's a nice bubble.”

There is something very logical to this approach – getting rid of everything that rubs you the wrong way or, for that matter, anyone significantly younger, is bound to make one feel a whole lot better. But there is a sinister side to it too, to this highly controlled artificial reality without so much as a bug or a mosquito around, populated by “nice folks” rarely interested in what's happening outside their own Pleasantville. Still, Blankenbyl, an open-minded interviewer, is not exactly looking for villains, even though the management sure seems to be bothering her team quite a lot. The people she talks to aren't evil – they just feel they deserve not to care anymore. After all, they have done their part: they have earned their money, raised their kids, and now they want to go belly dancing instead of discussing the state of the local flora. That being said, they still vote – heavily influencing election results in a state that used to be predominantly Democratic.

There is of course a sense of “before” and “after” when watching The Bubble now, during the pandemic, after COVID-19 has wrecked havoc on similar communities, but this approach of letting other people worry about what comes next rings very familiar. As captured by the Austrian director, you can be perfectly aware that “you just don't look good naked anymore,” and even turn it into a playful song, or that your country is becoming more divided than ever – yet still ignore whatever is going on behind these monitored gates. As they say, après moi, le déluge. But preferably not before that cardio drumming session.

The Bubble was produced by Dario Schoch, Sarah Born, and Rajko Jazbec for Catpics AG, Golden Girls Filmproduktion, SRF - Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen and Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF). International sales are handled by Deckert Distribution.

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