Tel Aviv on Fire is an interesting satire that seeks to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of a soap opera.
When we first meet Salam (Kais Nashif), he is working for popular Palestinian soap opera Tel Aviv on Fire. He only ends up becoming a writer on the series after a run-in with Assi (Yaniv Biton) at an Israeli checkpoint. Assi’s wife is a big fan of the series so naturally, he gives ideas to Salam for the end of the series. This may not be the best way to pitch ideas to a series. G-d only knows that unsolicited material is frowned upon in the industry. Salam uses Assi’s ideas as his own to the benefit of his career. This leads to a nice promotion for Salam, now working as a writer for Tel Aviv on Fire. Things get super tense when everyone has disagreements for the ending. Will Assi’s ideas get the go ahead? Or is Salam out of a job?
Because the TV series is a soap opera within the film, it allows for another type of storytelling. Yes, soap operas are just as popular overseas as they are in America. This particular medium allows for a focus on the 1967 war. Focusing on the war during the soap is an idea that does work for the film. This brings me to another point, it’s a bold storytelling decision to make this film a comedy. Given the conflict at hand (and I’m leaving my own beliefs out of this review), one would have thought that a drama would make more sense. Telling this story with a comedic tone really helps to heighten the satirical stakes.
The soap scenes here are presented similar to most soap operas on television. They especially include the traditional over-dramatic acting. This comes in a stark contrast compared to how life is shown outside the studio. The soap is created and produced by Salam’s uncle, Bassam (Nadim Sawalha). Through both Bassam and Salam, the film is able to offer differing realities through people growing up in different generations. Likewise, both Assi and Salam represent differing views with Assi wanting his ideas on the series. The two have an agreement in place. However, this agreement can also go to waste should Salam turn on Assi by way of rejection.
Kais Nashif and Yaniv Biton are able to play off of each other despite completely different backgrounds. The former comes from the world of drama while the latter has a comedic background. Odd chemistry but the duo work together just fine.
Tel Aviv on Fire works certainly works as a satire without discounting the reality at hand.
DIRECTOR: Sameh Zoabi
SCREENWRITERS: Dan Kleinman and Sameh Zoabi
CAST: Kais Nashif, Lubna Azabal, Yaniv Biton, Nadim Sawalha, Maisa Abd Elhadi, Salim Dau, Yousef Sweid, Amer Hlehel, Ashraf Farah, Laëtitia Eïdo