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Tel Aviv on Fire
First run Theater cinema

Sameh Zoabi’s satire Tel Aviv on Fire centers on a fictional Palestinian soap opera of the same name watched by both Arabs and Israelis. When a hapless Palestinian from East Jerusalem, Salem (Kais Nashef), gets a job as a production assistant from his producer uncle, he must travel daily through the Israeli checkpoint to the studio in Ramallah. There he encounters the commander of the checkpoint, Assi (Yaniv Bitton), who takes an interest in the show, especially in how it will end. Salam soon finds himself unexpectedly promoted to scriptwriter, desperately trying to satisfy the audience, the backers, the show’s leading lady, his uncle, his ex-girlfriend, his own growing sense of creative authorship, and the army commander who holds his fate in his hands. 

The basic premise of Tel Aviv on Fire is solid and insightful. It sends up the absurdities of the Arab/Israeli conflict while simultaneously pointing out the commonalities between the two sides. But the execution is simplistic. The screenplay is neither broad, nor complex, nor funny enough to qualify as an actual satire, yet it takes such liberties with logic that it doesn’t feel grounded in reality either. The supporting cast is terrific, especially Nadim Sawalha as the uncle and Lubna Azabal as the French star of the soap, but the lead is bland. Both as written and as acted by Nashef, Salem is the type of character that things happen to rather than an active protagonist, which makes the fanciful narrative come off as oddly listless. Zoabi pokes fun of Soap Opera clichés but his script is every bit as contrived as the show within his movie.

Twitter Capsule:
Zoabi aims for Tootsie (or at least Soapdish) level depth in this comedy about Israeli-Palestinian tensions. The premise is strong but the script lacks the heightened reality, layers of narrative complication, and broad laughs required for great satire.

Directed by Sameh Zoabi
Produced by Amir Harel, Miléna Poylo, Gilles Sacuto, and Bernard Michaux

Written by Sameh Zoabi and Dan Kleinman

With: Kais Nashif, Lubna Azabal, Yaniv Biton, Maisa Abd Elhadi, Nadim Sawalha, Salim Dau, Yousef 'Joe' Sweid, Amer Hlehel, Laëtitia Eïdo, Ashraf Farah, and Ula Tabari

Cinematography: Laurent Brunet
Editing: Catherine Schwartz
Music: André Dziezuk

Runtime: 100 min
Release Date: 03 April 2019
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1