One of the most irreverent cinematic spins on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the latest from writer-director Sameh Zoabi, who wrote the screenplay for The Idol, follows a fledgling soap-opera scenarist charged with concocting plot twists to suit viewers on both sides.
A slacker sliding into middle age with little to show for it, Salam (Kais Nashif, Paradise Now) 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; Incendies, Paradise Now), a French diva who barely speaks Arabic. It is 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 his place of 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 is already forced to compromise his integrity—while the entire country watches flabbergasted.
Zoabi’s ingenious satire exudes a deadpan audacity that is hard to resist, while Nashef’s outwardly unflappable middleman grounds this battle of ideologies in comic pragmatism. Films like this might not bring peace to the Middle East but making everyone laugh at the same thing feels like a step in the right direction.
“Genial mirth and the nightmarish gloom of the Middle East do not sound like natural companions, but the droll and delightful Tel Aviv on Fire has made the impossible possible.” (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times)
“This saga, for all its twists and turns, comes to a relatively neat end. Those living in the real world aren’t so lucky. In the meantime, Zoabi seems to say, we can at least laugh about it.” (Nora McGreevy, The Boston Globe)
“Director Sameh Zoabi relies on the old adage that we have more in common than not, but it’s a lesson that bears repeating—particularly when laughs come into it.” (David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle)