Salam, an inexperienced young Palestinian man, becomes a writer on a popular soap opera after a chance meeting with an Israeli soldier. His creative career is on the rise - until the ...
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Salam, an inexperienced young Palestinian man, becomes a writer on a popular soap opera after a chance meeting with an Israeli soldier. His creative career is on the rise - until the soldier and the show's financial backers disagree about how the show should end, and Salam is caught in the middle.
a soap opera about a soap opera about the conflict
Making a film about the conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians (or, shortly, 'the conflict' as the locals call it) is probably almost as complicated as the peace talks between the two sides. Yet, scriptwriter and director Sameh Zoabi chose not only to write and direct such a film, but also chose as topic the making nowadays of such a film titled 'Tel Aviv on Fire'. The genre? A soap opera - one of the most popular forms of cinema and television entertainment in the Middle East, with peak viewing rates among both the Jewish and the Arab sectors. The historical moment when the action takes place? The 1967 war, one of the key moments of the "conflict," a crushing Israeli victory and Arab defeat, perceived in polarized opposite ways by the two sides. An Arab television studio in Ramallah is making a soap opera that tries to rewrite history, as many movies from big houses do, in this case the 1967 war history. A brilliant cinematic idea - a soap opera in a soap opera.
The main hero (performed by the excellent actor Kais Nashif) is an aspiring film maker who works as a Hebrew language consultant for the soap opera, and who finds himself blessed with the opportunity to become the script writer of the series, having to reconcile all the parties that seem impossible to coexist in this part of the world: the Arab sponsors wishing that the film has a more patriotic message, the Israeli officer commanding the crossing point between Jerusalem and territories who wants to embellish the image of the Israeli officer in the story, the producer who wants to make a successful film, and his girlfriend who doubts his feelings. They all follow the successive episodes of the series and the way the action progresses, but can there be any outcome that is acceptable to all? Or is such an outcome just as impossible as a solution for peace in the Middle East?
The hero in the film has as tools his own talent and a few portions of humus (another topic of Israeli-Palestinian cultural mini-conflict). Director Sameh Zoabi uses the tools of soap opera combined with absurd humor, so suited to a conflict unwanted by most of those involved. Zoabi does not avoid stereotypes, on the contrary, uses them skillfully and in balanced doses. The result is better than I expected. He will not succeed in making everyone happy, I am convinced that many of those who have seen or will see the film will find smaller and bigger details that make them angry and will claim that the screenwriter /director has exaggerated in his sympathy with the other side. Probably even angrier will be some of those who will not see the movie but talk and write about it. Many of the situations seemed to me too exaggerated or unlikely, but I think such deviations are possible and admissible in a comedy that tries to approach in the satirical registry situations that are not simple at all. An extra merit of the film is that it brings to screen an intellectual and middle class Palestinian environment that is not shown too often in local films. I found 'Tel Aviv on Fire' to be an amusing and a necessary film. After all, if we really want to live in peace one day, we need, among other, to be able to sit one by the other, watch the same movie and laugh together. Even if the reasons and the scenes we laugh at are not always the same.
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