Tel Aviv on Fire, co-written and directed by Sameh Zoabi, is a new Israeli comedy film that will make you wish that American movies had the same level of creativity and ingenuity. If you have ever been frustrated by the media’s blindness to what is going on in the world, this satire is made for you.
The film follows a Palestinian man who becomes a writer on a soap opera after he encounters an Israeli soldier who has ideas about how the story of the show should progress. The level of self-awareness in this plot isn’t unprecedented, but it is rare that a movie pulls it off with such grace and ease, creating a film that is both thoroughly enjoyable to watch and surprisingly thought-provoking.
Although the movie is never laugh-out-loud hilarious, the subtle humor that is infused into the script is extremely refreshing. The ways in which the film pokes fun at television, both from its country of origin and from America, are often witty and insightful. Regardless of whether or not you like soap operas, you are sure to find joy in the ridiculousness of the goings on in this movie.
That said, the film also addresses a much deeper topic: the Israel-Palestine conflict. The ultimate message of the movie is one of cooperation, that Israelis and Palestinians can work together to find a solution to the issue. Although the political messaging isn’t particularly subtle, it works quite well and adds another layer to the film.
The characters are quite well-developed too. The protagonist, Salam, is a compelling character because he is just trying to make ends meet. If you have ever been in a similar situation of just trying to get by, you will definitely sympathize with some of the feelings and emotions which he is experiencing. Kais Nashif does a good job of bringing the character to life with his humble charm.
The true standout in the cast, though, is Yaniv Biton, who plays the Israeli soldier giving advice to the protagonist. Biton is extremely funny in the role and does an excellent job as the comedic relief. He is very lovable in the role and it is easy to see past the facade of military harshness into the goofball he is beneath.
On a technical level, the movie seems designed in itself to parody the execution of soap operas, and it works quite well. The cheesy score and oversaturated cinematography do a great job of creating this soapy feeling that really drives the tone of the film. It is obvious that quite a bit of detail was put into making the satire of the television industry work.
Tel Aviv on Fire is a very good movie. Somehow managing both its political commentary and its satire of television, Zoabi has delivered an imperfect, yet important film that is different than anything else you will see this year.
Tel Aviv on Fire opens in theaters on August 2.