Friday, August 2, 2019

Movie with Abe: Tel Aviv on Fire

Tel Aviv on Fire
Directed by Sameh Zoabi
Released August 2, 2019

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a simple matter, with plenty of passion to be found from nearly anyone asked about the situation. It has made its way into cinema quite frequently over the years, usually in the form of forbidden romances, military dramas, or investigative documentaries that try to reframe the narrative from a particular point of view. Those approaches are valid, but it’s hard to fully connect with any one effort due to perspectives and preconceived notions brought in when accessing a film. This clever comedy takes a different approach, one that proves to be as universal as possible given its material.

Salem (Kais Nashef) begins working on his uncle’s soap opera, “Tel Aviv on Fire” in Ramallah, helping with the Hebrew dialogue spoken by the Israeli commander and the Palestinian spy charged to get close to him. After he is stopped at an Israeli checkpoint one day, Salem meets Assi (Yaniv Biton), an Israeli officer whose wife loves the show. When Salem finds himself promoted to become a writer on the show, he’s in way over his head. An unexpected – and unconventional – relationship forms as Salem secretly consults with Assi for his help coming up with ideas for the show, which adds a distinctly Israeli flavor to the storylines that the series’ backers don’t like.

There is romance to be found in this film, though it’s a subplot. As he gets close to the lead actress (Lubna Azabal), who is French and tries to lure him away to what she describes as a better place, Salem throws in lines of dialogue that he hopes his ex-girlfriend (Maisa Abd Alhady) will notice. But the more central relationship is the one between Salem and Assi. It’s enormously complicated, since Assi wields a great deal of power over Salem, who for his part unwisely ends up at their initial meeting after he asks a female soldier if calling a woman “explosive” is a bad thing. But it’s sweet to see how they begin to enjoy spending time together, as Salem arrives each day with prized Palestinian hummus and Assi delves into what he believes can be a happy multicultural ending for a show that he can’t understand quite why his wife loves so much.

Nashef won a Best Actor prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival for a relatively muted performance, one that allows others around him to shine. Biton is entertaining, as is Azabal, and it’s fun to see Yousef Sweid from “The Bubble” hamming it up as the actor playing the Israeli soldier. This film’s message, that television, and by extension film, has a power to unite us in a way that isn’t quite as possible in the real world, is endearing. This film manages to provide a compelling and enthralling story that doesn’t seek to change everything, merely to suggest one lighthearted opportunity to find commonality.


No comments: