The Band's Visit review

:. Director: Eran Kolirin
:. Starring: Saleh Bakri, Ronit Elkabetz
:. Running Time: 1:25
:. Year: 2007
:. Country: Israel


Eran Kolirin's tale of reconciliation is set in Israel, far from the Israel we usually see in movies. The Band's Visit is a political film, but you won't get to experience the stress on a kibbutz surrounded by hostiles. This is also a picture about the Israeli youth, but you won't feel the sweat of Tel Aviv's busy nightclubs.

What interests Mr. Kolirin instead are these remote towns confronted with social danger, loneliness and boredom. What Mr. Kolirin is dreaming of is reconciliation between Israel and its neighbors, which can only happen through an exchange of culture and more particularly, music.

This is why he adopted the simplest setting, following a group of Egyptian police orchestra musicians that gets lost on their way to a concert in Israel and must befriend the locals to get food and a roof for the night.

Paradoxically, it might be a movie about communication between the residents of two countries, but communication here is sparse and done through a foreign language: broken English.

To convey emotions and humor, the filmmaker uses silence and long sequences, in the vein of Jacques Tati's work. This is an absurd comedy that Mr. Kolirin uses as a vehicle for social and political commentaries. Because the setting is so bare, the emotions and messages he distills are emphasized even more, an approach more effective than any overblown melodrama that the Academy loves to consecrate to feel good.

As we listen to conversations between the characters, we learn that Israelis were fans of Egyptian movies and it becomes clear that the conflict between Israel and its neighboring countries has resulted in an unexpected state of cultural isolationism. The youth don't have much to do here, whether it's in terms of work, fun or even sex. The community seems closed in on itself in an almost incestuous way. Of course this doesn't mean that all Israel is like that. Mr. Kolirin's fine script uses this situation as a metaphor to show that society needs an exchange with other cultures in order to breathe and develop — this also why, in case you wonder, the hot young Israeli woman wants to sleep with the old Egyptian musician. Both characters are lonely and in pain, reflecting their own countries.

Had some Egyptian actors have been allowed by their country to play the Egyptian musicians in this Israeli film, the film would have turned into a real human experiment. Unfortunately, and this is not the director's fault, not everything is ripe for change, which tends to make The Band's Visit a moment of utopia rather than a dream. The somewhat powerless aspect of this story of hope in no way undermines the impact of this small film, which using only humor and a few actors has more impact than any lecture on Middle Eastern politics coming from a self-aware humanistic documentaries or demagogic melodramatic productions ever could.

  Fred Thom

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