The Band’s Visit (2007) dir. Eran Kolirin
Starring: Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, Khalifa Natour
"The Band’s Visit" tore up the festival circuit last year winning awards at Cannes (En Certain Regard Jury Prize), Tokyo (Grand Prix) Warsaw, Montreal, Munich, Zurich and more. An Egyptian band gets lost and stranded in a small Israeli town overnight where they're forced to ingratiate themselves with the locals. It’s a cross cultural comedy with a deliciously warm heart and a distinctly European comic sensibility.
The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra from Egypt arrives in Israel the day before a performance at the Arab Cultural Centre. At the airport, there is no greeting party, no bus, no cab or limo waiting to pick them up. Have they been forgotten about? The band leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Tawfiq Zacharya (Sasson Gabai) is so concerned with maintaining discipline and representing their country with pride and honour, no one makes a stink, or pulls a tantrum. They wind up walking to the nearest village, dragging their instruments behind them. It’s both pathetic and cute at the same time.
They arrive in a one-horse Israeli town, with little bus access. The locals are welcoming of the band and courteously put them up for the night. The local restaurant owner Dina (Ronit Elkabetz) houses Tawfiq and his trouble-making trumpet player Khaled. Other band members split up and bunk with some of the other locals. The film intercuts the interactions between the Israelis and Arabs over the course of the evening.
The interaction of Tawfiq and Rita turns into a coy sexual flirtation. Ronit Elkabetz, a gorgeous middle-aged actress, provides a wonderfully sexy performance contrast against Gabai’s drill sergeant persona who is so stuck up he won’t take off his hat. Khaled, the trumpeter, hangs out with local loser, Papi, and teaches the awkward youth the intricacies of how to pick-up a girl. Khaled and Papi provide the best scene in the film and perhaps one the most hilarious displays of female courtship.
"The Band's Visit" is not unfamiliar or original. The British, Irish and Scottish have perfected this small town fish out of water story. The logline reads as “The Englishman Who Came Up and Hill But Went Down a Mountain”, or “Waking Ned Devine”, or “Local Hero”, there’s a few oddballs which are familiar to these films, but an overall European - and to get specific, Scandinavian - flavour makes the film distinct.
Director Eran Kolirin sets a quiet tone – part sadness, part surrealism. The Israeli town is a desolate place, with imagery influenced by the Coen bros’s Fargo”. Kolirin shoots his scenes with an economical sparseness with no shot wasted. His camera is locked down and framed with portrait-style composition. The films of Swedish surreal-master Roy Andersson come to mind.
The performances are quiet too. A voice is never raised. And with very little overt conflict, a full arcing narrative is sustained and completed with lessons learned about each other and themselves. Kolirin never dumbs down the material or coaxes unwarranted tears or emotional revelations from the character.
By the end of the night the stranger vs. stranger tension is barely broken, but just enough be to be poignant without melodramatic. The band will likely never ever see the locals of the town again, but they will also never forget their night of unplanned cathartic adventure. Enjoy.
"The Band's Visit" is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment