This Israeli film by Sameh Zoabi, an Arab Israeli, comes to us boasting a number of awards but that doesn’t prepare us for the treat of this thoroughly enjoyable and unpretentious story. “Tel Aviv on Fire” is one of those gems––think “The Band’s Visit” or “Tony Erdmann”––that grab and delight from the opening scene to the very end, with nary a slackening of rhythm.
Salam (Kais Nashif, a well-known Palestinian actor) works as coffee boy and general helper on the set of a highly-successful romantic series on Palestinian television, with the eponymous title “Tel Aviv on Fire,” watched by Israelis and Palestinians alike who eagerly await each episode, vicariously living en famille every twist and turn of the stories and discussing them nonstop. Through a series of circumstances, Salam who is an underachiever and doesn’t seem to have much future in anything becomes not only the main screenwriter but is goaded at the Ramallah checkpoint which he has to cross every day to go to work by an Israeli officer who is an admirer of the series and sees a chance to help write the script.
Caught in several traps at once and having to somehow extricate himself from a growingly perilous situation, Salam manages to keep his head above water until …
The film doesn’t eschew the complications of the daily life of most Palestinians, including those who, like Salam, live in Israel but work in Ramallah, hub of the Palestinian Authority, but treats it with realism, which is unavoidable, and humor, which always helps. The pace, acting, excerpts from the purported series, the impossible car traffic between Palestinian territory and Israel, the living apart but together, all meld in a seamless whole.
“Tel Aviv on Fire’ is pure joy—don’t miss it.
Film comes out this Friday.