Luxembourg's Foreign Oscar Entry Is Israeli Arab Director's 'Tel Aviv on Fire'

The acclaimed satirical look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was partly financed by the Luxembourg Film Fund

Itay Stern
Itay Stern
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A still from 'Tel Aviv on Fire.'
A still from 'Tel Aviv on Fire.'Credit: Patricia Ibañez / Courtesy of United King Films
Itay Stern
Itay Stern

Sameh Zoabi’s “Tel Aviv on Fire” will be Luxembourg’s entry to the 2020 Academy Awards in the best international film category (formerly best foreign language film), after it lost as best picture Sunday at Israel’s Ophir Awards to “Incitement.”

The Israel Film Fund and the Luxembourg Film Fund were the main backers of Zoabi’s feature film.

The dialogue in “Tel Aviv on Fire” is in Hebrew and Arabic, it was directed by an Arab resident of Israel and its cast is Israel and Palestinian (Yaniv Biton, Kais Nashif), but much of it was filmed in Luxembourg.

The film takes a satirical look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plot revolves around Salam (Nashif), a production assistant on a Palestinian telenovela who recruits the commander of an Israeli checkpoint for advice on the character of the Israeli officer. In exchange, the Israeli demands not only a regular supply of hummus but also improvements to the Israeli officer’s image in the series. The plot is set a few days before the Six-Day War. Cloying and suspenseful, the film shakes up a sentimental cocktail of heroism, passion, cunning, betrayal and lots of patriotism that threatens to drown the Middle East in a sea of tears.

It won the awards for best film and best screenplay at the 2018 Haifa International Film Festival and was shown at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, where Nashif won an award for best actor. Film critics from around the world have praised the movie’s bittersweet comic approach to the conflict.

This is the third film directed by Zoabi, who grew up in the village of Iksal near Nazareth.