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Arts & Culture

The Band's Visit

An Egyptian band made up of police officers has been invited to an Arab cultural center is Israel. But the men - all dressed in uniforms that you'd consider military in style if it weren't for their soft, powder blue color - are dropped off at the wrong town. Stranded out in the dessert with no Israeli money and significant language barriers, the men initially find the locals less that happy about their arrival. But the men, who look so desperately out of place, soon win the sympathy of a local restaurant owner (Ronit Elkabetz). She offers them food and finds them all a place to sleep as they await a driver to take them to the correct town.

Tawfiq (Sasson Gabai) meets Dina (Ronit Elkabetz) in The Band's Visit (Sony Pictures Classics)

And that's it. The film is simply about these foreigners spending a night in a small town and connecting in unexpected ways with the locals. Eran Kolirin makes his writing and directing debut with The Band's Visit and although he runs the risk of being precious at times, in the end he delivers a graceful wisp of a film that charms audiences. Since music needs no translation, Kolirin makes his out of place characters musicians that get a chance to connect with people through their music.


Although this is a film about Israelis and Egyptians, the Middle East conflict is not something that they can really talk about. It's something that's silently acknowledged in exchanged glances, but never directly confronted. Instead, the characters find themselves talking about loved ones that have died, opportunities missed, and relationships that have gone sour. These characters take this opportunity to reveal very personal insights, and to reach out in very human ways. In one sweetly funny scene, the band's slick ladies' man Khaled (Saleh Bakri) offers advice to a naïve Israeli youth. When the boy asks, "Have you been with a woman?" Khaled says, "Yes." And the boy begs him for details. But Khaled says he can only describe the experience in his native Arabic. The boy listens intently and somehow comprehends the wonder and bliss of what Khaled is describing in what may be a foreign language but which comes across as a very universal emotion. Later, in a static shot framing Khaled, the boy and a young girl at a roller disco, Khaled patiently takes the boy through the necessary steps of communicating with the opposite sex. The film suggests that it's not just language that can pose a problem in communication, gender can be an issue as well. It's a remarkably simple scene, shot plainly, but it delivers both humor and unexpected tenderness.

Lessons in love at the roller disco. (Sony Pictures Classics)

The film succeeds because of the nuanced performances of its superb cast, and because of Kolirin's witty visual compositions. He understands the humor of incongruity, and how funny the band's incongruous appearance in this desert town can be. Kolirin favors long takes and static shots, finding cleverness in the way people are framed within the image. At the dinner table three Egyptians are crammed together in the frame on one side of the table, as if they were huddling up, finding safety in numbers. On the other curving side of the table are the Israeli family members who observe their guests with attitudes ranging from curiosity to animosity. The discomfort of the musicians as they are being scrutinized comes through in the way they are shot in that scene. Kolirin's approach echoes the dry irony of recent Balkan films such as 12:08 East of Bucharest and the works of Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki ( Leningrad Cowboys go America, The Man Without a Past ).


Conducting an intimate moment. (Sony Pictures Classsics)

The Band's Visit (in English, Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles, and rated PG-13 for brief strong language) may have been passed over by the Academy but audiences shouldn't ignore it. It's a sweet tale brimming with human compassion. This is a small movie that fully embraces it's intimate scale and doesn't try to be anything bigger. It knows exactly what it is and exactly what delicate note to end on.

Companion viewing: Leningrad Cowboys Go America, Divine Intervention, 12:08 East of Bucharest