A rising writer of a Palestinian soap opera tries to cater to everyone, while covering up his own secret, in Sameh Zoabi’s award-winning comedy Tel Aviv on Fire.
Strapped for cash, Salam (Kais Nashik of Paradise Now) desperately needs his production assistant job on the set of a popular soap opera. The gig consists of the usual PA tasks (coffee runs ensue), but Salam is occasionally called upon to be a hebrew dialect coach for the show’s star Tala (Lubna Azabal). His pointers soon turn into notes for the show’s primary writer, which then promotes Salam to full-fledged scene work. The issue is he’s unqualified, and the ideas that initially got him attention belong to a stoic military commander, Captain Assi Tzur (Yaniv Biton), who he passes by on his commute.
When Salam lands the task of writing specific key scenes for the show, his lack of experience starts showing. Which is why Salam keeps returning to Assi’s station at an Israeli checkpoint to spitball ideas for him. Assi is uncredited as Salam’s receives sole recognition for the exceptional writing. However, in exchange, Salam must follow up on favours for Assi, such as including easter eggs for his soap-savvy wife to catch and following through on plot twists that will make the show “more convincing”, but also might persuade the show into a political agenda.
The chemistry between Salam and Assi is really sweet because it’s essentially two naive lunks trying to decipher romance. Tel Aviv on Fire doesn’t try to milk laughs out of this fish-out-of-water scenario though. The story’s genuine moments stem off of the characters and their charming need to make others happy while they search for their own sense of satisfaction. It’s why the scenes between Assi and his wife are so endearing. It’s also why we root for Salam, who is overcompensating because he’s not being entirely truthful to those around him. However, there’s certainly room for more of a considerable female presence in Tel Aviv on Fire. The women in the cast are either portrayed as eye candy, romantic interests, or someone for the men to ricochet banter off of.
Despite it feeling a bit dated, I was smitten with Tel Aviv on Fire.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie