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film review
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Maisa Abd Elhadi as Mariam, left, and Kais Nashif as Salam Abbass in Tel Aviv on Fire.Patricia Peribáñez/Courtesy of Unobstructed View

  • Tel Aviv on Fire
  • Directed by Sameh Zoabi
  • Written by Sameh Zoabi
  • Starring: Kais Nashef, Lubna Azabal and Yaniv Biton
  • Classification: PG; 97 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

The Palestinian writer-director Sameh Zoabi likely won’t win an Oscar for his good-humoured farce on the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, but could we interest him in a peace prize? Because his film is about sympathy and listening to both sides, and his irreverence is charming.

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The film is called Tel Aviv on Fire, yet nothing is inflamed. Kais Nashef stars as a mild-mannered Palestinian flunkie who only through nepotism and bilingual fluency lands a job as a production assistant on a popular Palestinian soap opera set in the months preceding the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. He manages to fall upward into a scriptwriting position, where he is subject to the competing wishes of a temperamental French actress and an Israeli checkpoint officer.

Open this photo in gallery:

Yaniv Biton as Captain Assi Tzur, back, and Nashif as Salam, a Palestinian flunkie who lands a job on a popular soap opera set in the months preceding the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.Patricia Peribáñez/Courtesy of Unobstructed View

Nashef is a sombre Roberto Benigni in his role as a sincere bumbler, defusing situational bombs with hummus-based subterfuge and desperate diplomacy. This satire in Hebrew and Arabic is an answer in an allegorical and comical way, about a mad circumstance and a man in the middle of it. A tense and painful backdrop, sure, but there’s no stick up Zoabi’s butt, just an olive branch.

Tel Aviv on Fire opens in Toronto on Aug. 2; Montreal, Aug. 9.

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