Scripts for Life

A Brief Commentary & Review of the film, “Tel Aviv On FIre”
by John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Director

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“To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it.” - Charlie Chaplin

I routinely caution our audiences who long for a good foreign comedy that such a thing can be a rare find; particularly if one is only interested in a sidesplitting belly laugh, rather than subtle, or even dark, humor. As an example, take a film that takes as its premise the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and then proceeds to bill itself as a romantic comedy with such an inflammatory title as “Tel Aviv on Fire.”

Dubbed by several critics as a biting satire poking fun at ethnic and political divisions that are nonetheless infatuated with the twists and turns of the same soap operas on television, Sameh Zoabi’s film goes deeper.

Salam is a 30-year old Palestinian who’s hired by his Uncle Bassam. Bassam is the director of a popular Palestinian soap opera. In the soap, it’s only weeks before the Six Day Way in 1967, and though Salam has no experience in script writing, he does know Hebrew and its common parlance. So he advises how one would address Tala -- who has the role of the alluring diva and Arab sympathizer -- without being “explosive.” But does Tala truly love Yehuda, the Israeli commander? Or will his confidence in a pending Israeli victory be thwarted by her collaborator and real love, Marwan (who’s dubbed either a “terrorist” or “freedom fighter,” depending on your point of view)? The soap keeps everyone wondering how it’ll all turn out. Tune in next week and find out.

Meanwhile, back in real life, Salam must deal with the Israeli military officer. Assi, who can literally block his daily life by refusing passage at the arduous checkpoint between his home in West Bank and work in Jerusalem. Could anything more timely in the real world (August, 2019)?

When Assi discovers Salam is a writer for his wife’s favorite soap opera, Assi becomes a collaborator of sorts himself; requiring Salam to revise the soap opera plot to please his wife and spark her affections. Initially, a bumbling Salam is willing to go along. He’s achieved some semblance of notoriety with his new job, Now he can attempt to rekindle a romantic relationship of his own with Mariam, who previously thought he’d amount to nothing. How will it all end?

The “soap opera” genre could be considered the precursor to the popularity of today’s “reality” show. Both genres portend to blur the lines between what is real and imperfect in the human condition with what we fantasize life might be like, if only … If only we could write, or rewrite, the script we’ve been given.

But in script writing one has the luxury of rewriting a scene before it happens. In life, one is only allowed “rewrites” in order to make amends, or potentially redirect one’s future episodes.

Set in this larger context, “Tel Aviv on Fire” exposes the sometimes-comedic difference between the script one writes and the life one lives. jb

“Tel Aviv on Fire” exposes the sometimes-comedic difference between the script one writes and the life one lives.