Tel Aviv on Fire – Israel/France/Belgium/Luxembourg
Show Times: 6:30 & 8:25 pm
Director: Sameh Zoabi
Cast: Lubna Azabal, Kais Nashef, Maisa Abd Elhadi, Yaniv Biton
Running Time: 97 minutes
Language: Arabic, Hebrew with English subtitles
Venice Film Awards: Best Film, Best Actor (Kais Nashef), Asia Pacific Screen Awards: Best Screenplay; Seattle International Film Festival: Best Film; 3 other wins; 11 nominations
“Wonderfully cast, Sameh Zoabi’s zippy comedy takes clever basic ingredients and runs with them, affectionately lampooning stereotypical attitudes about Arabs and Jews and how each group supposedly demands to be depicted.”—Lisa Nesselson, Screen International
One of the most irreverent cinematic spins on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the latest from writer-director Sameh Zoabi follows a fledgling soap-opera scenarist who bumbles into having to concoct plot twists to suit viewers on both sides.
A slacker sliding into middle age with little to show for it, Salam (Kais Nashef) lands a production-assistant gig on “Tel Aviv on Fire,” a popular Palestinian evening soap for which his uncle is show runner. A banal, offhand remark made during a shoot puts Salam in hot water with the show’s head writer but curries favour with its star (Lubna Azabal), a French diva who barely speaks Arabic. It’s only Salam’s first day and he already gets promoted.
Yet just as Salam’s prospects rise, he has a fateful encounter with Assi (Yaniv Biton), an Israeli military officer at the Ramallah checkpoint. During his interrogation of Salam, who must cross daily to get between home and work, Assi sees an opportunity to influence “Tel Aviv on Fire,” which, in his mind, is far too unflattering to its Israeli characters. Salam has just begun life as a writer, and he’s already forced to compromise his integrity while the entire country watches flabbergasted.
Zoabi’s ingenious satire exudes a deadpan audacity that’s hard to resist, while Nashef’s outwardly unflappable middleman grounds this battle of ideologies in comic pragmatism. Films like Tel Aviv on Fire might not bring peace to the Middle East, but making everyone laugh at the same thing feels like a step in the right direction.