AKA: Falafel Atomi
Genre: Dark Comedy/Satire
Year Released: 2015
Distributor: Unlicensed (streaming available via Netflix)
Origin: Israel/Germany/New Zealand
Running Time: 100 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 17+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Dr. Strangelove, Tropic Thunder, War Games, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
-This was viewed via Netflix. There’s currently no North American home video distributor for this film.
-Atomic Falafel does contain sensitive issues with what it satirizes such as nuclear war and Israeli’s relations with other Middle Eastern countries to name a few. This may have been made by an Israeli director which softens the blow, but you’ve been warned.
-The origin section of the page almost would’ve had Iran listed alongside those other countries, but director Dror Shaul’s Iranian friends who were going to help produce this film canceled, so Shaul had to get new producers and some different actors.
-Four languages were used in this film: Hebrew, English, German, and Persian/Farsi.
-Dror Shaul directed the movie Sweet Mud.
-Hilarious in Hindsight: Haim tends to call Oliver a nazi a lot because of his German nationality/ethnicity. Oliver is played by Alexander Fehling who played Staff Sgt. Wilhelm in Inglorious Basterds. Also, that same actor has been involved in justice situations in his role for the movie Storm similar to what Oliver does but in regards to different subjects.
-Cultural Bonus: There are two references to the Israeli nuclear worker Vanunu. The dog at the IDF’s base is named Vanunu and the scene with Mimi being arrested. As she’s being driven away, she puts her hand on the window with writing that says “I left meatballs in the fridge.” in Hebrew. That scene parodies a real-life picture where the real Vanunu puts his hand on the window saying where and when he was detained after leaking nuclear secrets to a British newspaper.
This movie has such a peculiar title that I couldn’t ignore it as I loaded up my streaming queue on Netflix. The only other film I’d seen in my life that had the word “falafel” in the title was the Australian dark comedy He Died With a Falafel In His Hand. After reading the brief synopsis and seeing a falafel truck (do we even have those in America?) on the cover, my curiosity was piqued.
Atomic Falafel takes place in an alternate present-day Israel where there’s a threat of nuclear war against Iran. The people at the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) have been chomping at the bit to nuke Iran and they’ve been coming up with various over-the-top plans to ensure the safety of their home country. As the country is days away from dealing this attack to their Persian enemies, there’s a widow named Mimi Azrian and her Iranian/Israeli mixed teenage daughter Nofar. Mimi runs a falafel truck as they drive around the place while feeding long lines of soldiers. There’s an anti-nuclear consulate that visits Israel that faces backlash, but one German member named Oliver Hahn grabs the heart of Mimi after he is rendered unconscious by the special spicy falafel sandwiches. Meanwhile, Nofar is trying to finish her family tree assignment, but has delayed it given that her paternal side of the family was from Iran. She gets info from an Iranian rapper girl named Sharareh who also gets involved in a plan with Nofar’s boyfriend Meron AKA Kurdish Worm who’s a hacker who just happened to get access to the nuclear codes. All of this and other wacky things happen throughout the course of the film.
If you read my little synopsis, you would think that this satirical film would be some bizarre fusion of Dr. Strangelove, War Games, and Chef of all things. That doesn’t do Atomic Falafel justice. It is one insanely quirky and hilarious movie. The film uses some perky ukulele and peppy surf rock for most of the score which highlights the wacky nature while also using it as a counterpoint against this nuclear threat looming. When most of the characters are introduced, the screen freezes while having the character’s names, relationship statuses, and hobbies listed out (some of those hobbies get naughty though). One funny exception was the debuting scene of Oliver. As his co-workers are getting pelted by food and cussed out in English by the Israelis, IDF soldier Haim names off everyone’s name, age, and country of origin. Haim doesn’t recognize Oliver as he covers his face with a steel briefcase before Oliver introduces himself to everyone by saying his own name, age, and national origin as his character leans against the fourth wall to the surprise of everyone. The dialogue and farcical nature got me to laugh loudly several times throughout the film. There’s a soldier who becomes a living antenna who randomly gets radio messages in his head for example. Oliver’s body turns redder than a tomato when he’s near uranium due to a severe allergy. Joshua, the New Zealand cadet speaks to his commanders in what I call “Hebrenglish” (Hebrew and English words in the same sentence like how Spanglish is to Spanish and English a la Pitbull songs) in his noticeable Kiwi accent. Even Oliver seeing through the IDF trying to disguise a clothing factory as the country’s nuclear research center made me laugh especially when there’s a sign that misspells “research” and when the German calls out Haim for lying to him. That’s saying nothing about the final showdown and how the problem is solved between the two nations.
The music in Atomic Falafel scores a lot of high marks with me (see what I did there?). The instrumentals using some surf rock and lighthearted ukulele pop music was fun. Each track got stuck in my head as they repeated certain tunes tastefully and fit each scene they were in. The musical dissonance of the nuclear threat and music is just masterful. I’d be neglectful if I didn’t mention the usage of Farsi rap in the film. Seriously, someone needs to give Iranian-German actress Tara Melter a movie and music career. She did a great job playing the rebellious Sharareh who makes music in her spare time as she longs to be back in Tehran instead of living in Natanz. The two songs that she spits on are just great, but there’s special mention of the first song “Hitchki”. That song is so catchy despite having a more basic beat compared to more recent rap songs. There’s even a music video with the whole song which you should check out. Bonus points with the footage of the Israeli and Iranian soldiers dancing as Tara Melter/Sharareh is rapping.
Atomic Falafel does have some issues and yes, this does include the controversial content. There’s so much happening in this film, that it can be a bit overwhelming at times. It’s a fast-paced film with the various wacky plot lines and imminent danger. It’s handled well with the serious and funny events, but the events can happen so much and so fast. I also wish they would’ve handled Mimi’s backstory better. There are times where she doesn’t come across as a woman who’s grieving over her lost husband who died years prior to the film’s beginning. There is some of that longing for a man with her relationship with Oliver and the rumors of Nofar’s classmates claiming that Mimi “sucks off the whole IDF” as crass as it sounds, but they could’ve developed her backstory in more detail despite the fun things that happen in the relationship.
Now comes the most uncomfortable aspect of Atomic Falafel (and it’s a HUGE one): the topics it satirizes. The nuclear aspect shouldn’t be the big one given the existence of the aforementioned Dr. Strangelove, but it gets very touchy given that this situation involves Israel and Iran. Even people not familiar with Middle Eastern relations can see why people would take umbrage with this. Dror Shaul decided to satirize Israel’s role in some of these tense relationships by having his own home country look like the aggressors in this war during the plot, parodies elements of Zionist extremism with Haim and company, and some of the government’s current issues. It also didn’t help that Atomic Falafel came out a month after the Iran nuclear deal with then-President Obama. I can understand where people are coming from with having their issues with this portrayal and how if this had been anyone besides an Israeli Jewish director, this movie would look Anti-Semitic in hindsight. I’d make one counter-argument to why the satire elements work here. Much like another anti-war movie Grave of the Fireflies despite that anime film having a completely opposite tone of Atomic Falafel (understatement of the year), I liked how most of the antagonists had the same nationality as most of the protagonists. That is a tremendous piece of writing because it shows that not everyone agrees to the same ideology and it completely avoids propaganda plots. Even the element of the final act where the Israeli and Iranian solders meet each other via a not-Skype video chat (it makes sense in context) with their hands close to their respective detonating buttons as they’re talking. Without spoiling too much, both of them admit that they had nothing against the other country, there were some huge misunderstandings, and they were more alike despite their nationalities, cultures, languages, and religions. This could’ve been a preachy piece, but it becomes really funny and it’s not just because one of them has a detonator that TOTALLY looks like the Ninetendo Powerglove. That’s why I felt the anti-war elements worked here when they did it in a humorous way while also revealing the humanities of both the Israeli and Iranian soldiers.
Atomic Falafel is one of the funniest movies I had never heard of until quite recently. The dialogue and humor is incredible. The musical elements really bring the best out of whatever scene it’s in. Sure, there are some parts that get immature and the content is still controversial as it satirizes aspects of Israel’s government and their relationship to it’s Muslim-majority neighbors, but I felt that Shaul handled it a lot better than given credit for although I can see why he’d want to avoid comedies after creating this film. The production is splendid with the cinematography and competent usage of special effects such as a texting overlay when Nofar instant messages Sharareh when they first meet online. Atomic Falafel is a very quirky film that will make you laugh, but there’s a good amount of substance in the plotting and jokes.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like anti-war parodies or satires.
Subtract 2 points if you can’t stand some crude humor.
Subtract 3-5 points if you really feel uncomfortable with films spoofing geopolitical issues.
-Hilarious dialogue and witty jokes
-Fantastic and quirky score
-Great plot twists and non-preachy with it’s message
-Mimi’s underdeveloped backstory with her dead husband
-Some unneeded blue humor
-Can be too controversial for some with the subject matter
Final Score: 9/10 Points
Content Warning: Definitely older teens and up for this one. There’s a lot of strong language in multiple tongues although most of the swear words are in English. There’s some violence and some of the soldiers do threaten some of the teenage protagonists in some severe ways. There’s sexual content with Nofar and Meron (although you don’t see them when they do it), Mimi and Oliver making love in the falafel truck as the viewer sees it bounce around with screaming in the background, some of the hobbies listed with it mentioning one character likes to have some “alone time” with a picture of Princess Diana, and some dialog such as one of the soldiers wishing something very horrible to happen to Oliver before laughing about it. There’s also the farcical nature of the film parodying elements of Israel’s government and it’s position as a nation in contrast to other nations in the Middle East which younger viewers wouldn’t get and older viewers might get uncomfortable with some of that satirical elements.
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