Film Review: ‘Atomic Falafel’

This exuberant, delightfully absurd comedy is Israeli helmer-writer Dror Shaul’s 'Dr. Strangelove.'

Courtesy of United Channel Movies

A hilarious, fast-paced satire with a pro-peace message, “Atomic Falafel” encompasses the Israel-Iran nuclear showdown, the Internet friendship of two teens from the opposing countries, a youthful hacker’s first romance and a falafel maker’s discovery of a new love. Especially resonant in today’s political climate, this exuberant, delightfully absurd, spot-on comedy is Israeli helmer-writer Dror Shaul’s “Dr. Strangelove,” and reps a tasty treat with loads of style for niche distributors in most territories, especially Stateside. After world preeming in Montreal, the pic opens wide in Israel on Sept. 10.

Boasting the kind of verbal and visual humor that holds nothing sacred, the story kicks off in a small town in southern Israel that houses a nuclear reactor, an army base and a secret bunker 40 meters below ground. In a scene that represents a clear homage to Stanley Kubrick’s masterwork, gung-ho brigadier general Avihu Partosch (Yossi Marshak), minister of defense Menachem Azzam (Jonathan Cherchi), eye-patched operation commander Haim Shai (Shai Avivi) and mysterious chief intelligence officer Col. Kobi Avni (Zohar Strauss) sit around a sandbox mockup of military maneuvers in the hidden war room, debating how to respond to the Iranian threat. As Partosch describes his plan, his assistant pulls bigger and bigger model planes and missiles from her handbag. He suggests hitting Iran with an atomic bomb in seven days, since “the world is against us anyway.”

Fortunately, there are a few flies in the ointment of Partosch’s plan, including a visit by the Intl. Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the rebellious teens, Nofar (Michelle Treves) and genius computer whiz Meron (Idan Carmeli), who accidentally get ahold of the operation’s command disk prepared by new immigrant computer coder Joshua (Will Robertson). Factor in Nofar’s widowed mother, Mimi Azarian (sexy Mali Levi Gershon), the local falafel truck operator and maker of the deadliest hot sauce in the Middle East, and her attraction to Oliver Hann (Alexander Fehling), the German member of the IAEA team who breaks out in hives when he comes anywhere near enriched uranium, and you have the recipe for balagan (chaos, Israeli style).

Meanwhile, 15-year-old Nofar, whose late father was Iranian, is about to flunk out of school because she can’t complete her family tree assignment. Luckily, Nofar makes the online acquaintance of an Iranian teen, Sharareh (Tara Melter), who supplies the research that Nofar needs. As they chat electronically, the girls find out that they have plenty in common. Plus, Nofar learns that Shahareh has just moved from Tehran to the desert town of Natanz because of her father’s job. But it is the Natanz nuclear facility that Oliver is due to inspect next and it is the site that Partosch wants to take out.

Within this clever setup, helmer Shaul displays a keen eye and ear for themes, issues and stereotypes that can be exploited for comic effect. There’s the serious, detail-oriented German who gets the guilt card played against him; the obligatory visit for foreigners to Yad Vashem; the zealous new immigrant mixing English and Hebrew in his speech; the officer who after 30 years in the army is so full of metal bolts holding him together that he has become a radio antenna; and the Israeli soldiers whose love of falafel is so great that they arrange for it to be delivered to them at distant coordinates in the desert when they complete maneuvers.

Shaul also shows a sure hand with his “outsider” teens, getting the details right in every scene, from the classroom teasing to the dynamics of instant messaging. Nohar and Meron’s budding attraction also unfolds in a natural and unforced manner, their hormonal urges tempered by their first-timers’ timidity.

The stylish production design adds to the wicked humor, with the main characters introduced with onscreen type that spells out their name, job, marital status and unusual hobbies. The inspired music track, which also makes use of Israeli and Iranian folk tunes as well as indie rock, and even Iranian rap, keeps the action pacey while providing acerbic commentary.

Per press notes, Shaul hoped to make the first Israeli-Iranian co-production in history, but over the five-and-a-half year struggle to finance the film, his potential Iranian co-producer fell by the wayside. There are Iranian thesps here, but they are German-based.

Film Review: ‘Atomic Falafel’

Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Focus on World Cinema), Sept. 1, 2015. Running time: <strong>93 MIN.</strong> (Original title: “Falafel atomi”)

  • Production: (Israel-Germany-New Zealand) A United Channel Movies, United King Films, Amir Feingold, Dash Haim, Arden Film, Jooyaa Filmproduktion, Getaway Pictures, General Film Corporation production with the support of the Israel Film Fund, the Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Israel Film Council, Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Deutscher Filmforderfonds DFFF, Norddeutscher Rundfunk, ARTE, New Zealand Film Commission, Images & Sound Limited, YES, the Israel Fund for Film Production. (International sales: United Channel Movies, Tel Aviv.) Produced by Chilik Michaeli, Avraham Pirchi, Tami Leon, Amir Feingold, Dror Shaul, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery, Andro Steinborn, Skady Lis, Minu Barati, Matthew Metcalfe.
  • Crew: Directed, written by Dror Shaul. Camera (color, HD), Sebastian Edschmid; editor, Tom Eagles; music, Joel Haines, Bahar Henschel; production designers, Yoram Shayer, Yasmin Khalifa; costume designers, Chen Gilad, Peri de Braganca; sound designer, Chris Sinclair; sound, Yahav Shemesh, Christoph Schilling; casting, Limor Shmila, Uwe Bunker.
  • With: Michelle Treves, Mali Levi Gershon, Alexander Fehling, Will Robertson, Shai Avivi, Idan Carmeli, Tara Melter, Yossi Marshak, Jonathan Cherchi, Zohar Strauss, Arash Sarhaddi, Sima Seyed, Otana Mirza, Ami Smolarchik. (Hebrew, English, Farsi dialogue)