“Tel Aviv on Fire,” Sameh Zoabi‘s comic film is a somewhat zany send up of political affairs regarding Israel and Palestine, with some thoughtful and pensive accents. Like Armando Iannucci’s “The Death of Stalin,” this is a colorful portrait of an artist struggling to write for a soap opera in an occupied land. It is pointed and brisk.
Salem (Kais Nashef) is a production assistant on a Palestinian-made soap opera. He is fed up with his routine as a glorified errand runner. By chance Salem meets Assi (Yaniv Biton) an Israeli guard who likes his show, but wishes it were more romantic. Salem picks Assi’s brain for ideas and he gets a few suggestions. Salem then asks Assi for more material. Assi agrees to write several scenes in exchange for daily portions of hummus.
The soap opera team loves the new scripts.
Assi is a pushover for romance and demands an Israeli / Palestinian wedding story.
The film portrays everyone locked in their own insular worlds. Assi prides himself on being macho and strong, yet he loves sentimental pabulum. Assi also wants the soap to be Disneyesque to please his wife. Soap star Tala (Lubna Azabel) is vain and demands to be on-camera and glamourous at all times.
Meanwhile Salem is at pains to express something meaningful about the Israeli occupation.
While it helps to know something of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, lay audiences can still appreciate the madcap sensibility, the sharp dialogue and some quirky happenstance.
“Tel Aviv on Fire” belongs in the same canon of social commentary films such as “Dr. Strangelove” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”.
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