Review: TEL AVIV ON FIRE (2018) – A Wonderful Meta Contextual Misadventure

Published by Shah Shahid on

Tel Aviv On Fire is one of the movies currently playing at the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival. The feature film is an exceptionally well-made dramedy about a man, given a second chance at making something of himself. Albeit in incredibly dubious and dangerous ways. 

Image via Artermis Productions.

Tel Aviv On Fire is a charming movie with a well-written story and a powerhouse performance from its leading man. Tel Aviv On Fire is the story about a soap opera production. Salam (Kais Nashif), a Palestinian works as a lowly production assistant, but hopes to be more. The fictional General Hospital-like soap is about a Palestinian spy that falls in love with an Israeli military office. It’s a show that Palestinians and Israeli audiences both love. While helping with the Hebrew dialogue on set for the leading lady Tala (Lubna Azabal), Salam ingratiates himself to her.

Tel Aviv On Fire is a charming movie with a well-written story.

Salam’s life looks dull and pathetic. He seems to be in debt, with a bitter ex-girlfriend and a job he got only through nepotism. However, a routine inspection at a checkpoint, leads to an actual Israeli military office, Assi (Yaniv Biton) interrogating Salam. When Assi finds out that he’s the writer of the soap opera that his wife likes, Assi gets an idea. 

During their next meet, Assi provides Salam with his own script for an episode. He thinks the fictional Israeli officer needs to sound more authentic. Salam then presents this script to his superiors, passing it off as his own. Thereby proving himself a worthy writer and getting a promotion. But, unable to write on his own, Salam strikes a deal with Assi. The two then embark on regular brainstorming sessions, that Salam continues to pass off as his own stories. It works, and the show becomes even more beloved than it was before, raising Salam’s stock accordingly.

Kais Nashik Is Subtly Brilliant In His Performance Of Salam.

Image via Artermis Productions.

Tel Aviv On Fire is extremely fun and energetic, given the hoops that Salam has to jump through to prove himself capable. The situations are hilarious, while scary when you realize that Salam is playing everyone to ensure he gets what he wants. One of whom is an Israeli officer during an occupation. Oh, Salam’s juggling also includes winning back his ex with his new stable job. The tension and what moves the story along is to see how and if Salam’s house of lies comes crashing in on itself. 

The story is incredibly well written, with Salam getting himself into a conundrum at every turn, then having to talk his way out of it. Nashif is brilliant in his portrayal of Salam. He begins the movie as an unsympathetic and apathetic character who seems like he needs to get his crap together. But over the course of the movie, the disconnected apathy turns into low key charm that helps sell the story that much more. The audience fully invests in Salam’s efforts to redeem himself, and even starts rooting for him. 

Tel Aviv On Fire Is Quiet Comedy In A Serious Setting

Tel Aviv On Fire is further bolstered by additional performances that prop up Nashef’s own. Most notable is Azabal, who plays Tala, the Palestinian spy in the soap opera. Taken by Salam’s command of the character, Tala becomes impressed. But Azabal plays Tala, an actress who’s in it for the art, with such presence that you never question that she’s acting, even though she’s playing an actor in the movie. 

Image via Artermis Productions.

The cast is further enhanced by Yaniv Biton’s Assi, the military officer who moonlights as a romance screenwriter. The best scenes of Tel Aviv On Fire come from Salam and Assi as they hilariously brainstorm and co-write romantic sequences together. It’s a joy to watch both men, way in over their heads, try to create fiction with the purpose of improving something missing thing in own their lives. 

Tel Aviv On Fire Trailer

From a personal perspective, I thoroughly enjoyed Tel Aviv On Fire. It’s fun and an impressive story. And, as a lover of film and television, it was equally impressive to see the behind the scenes drama of an industry I know very little about. With equally impressive performances and writing. At its core, Tel Aviv On Fire is a story about how people from two sides of a political situation can find a connection through something as innocuous as a television soap opera. And how the outrageousness of that kind of fictional drama can bring them together on common ground. It’s a testament to the power of media and storytelling, albeit in an incredibly hilarious and lighthearted setting.  

Tel Aviv On Fire is now playing at the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival 2020. 


Shah Shahid

Entertainment Writer | Film & TV Critic | Bollywood Blogger | Host of Split Screen Podcast | Proud Geek Girl Dad

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