The action centres around Salam (Kais Nashif), a Palestinian living in Israel. He’s a production assistant on a 1967 set soap opera about the days leading up to the Six-Day War, a job that came courtesy of his producer uncle Bassem (Nadim Sawahlha). Titled “Tel Aviv On Fire,” the show stars spy-trainer Marwan (Ashraf Farah) his pupil Tala (Lubna Azabal), who will eventually be good enough to steal military secrets from General Yehuda Edelman (Yousef Sweid).
Salam, who is fluent in Hebrew, works on set correcting the pronunciation of hard to say words on the Palestinian soap opera. When a writing job comes up he jumps at it in an attempt to impress his ex-girlfriend Maryam (Maisa Abd Alhady) even though he has little to no screenwriting talent.
On his way into work one day he meets Captain Assi Tzur (Yaniv Biton), an official at the checkpoint between Ramallah from East Jerusalem. The Captain, a fan of the soap, gives him ideas for the show in exchange for hummus and the guarantee that the series end in Tala and Edelman’s wedding. Salam agrees but soon finds himself stuck in the middle between Assi and his producers who want a different ending.
The farcical “Tel Aviv on Fire” works because it is a heightened often absurd story brought to life by terrific performances by the cast. Nashif earned an acting award at the Venice Film Festival but the cast is uniformly strong, able to poke fun at the political posturing inherent in the story without ever losing the humanity at the heart of the story.
“Tel Aviv on Fire” is a rarity, a comedy from the Middle East, and while it is based around a soap opera never falls into the trap of becoming conventional. Instead, it treads on unpredictable ground, using ironic humor to illuminate cultural differences.