Ronit Elkabetz, Sasson Gabai
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
In his feature film directing debut, Eran Kolirin has created a cinematic experience similar in tone and simplicity to John Carney's unexpected 2007 hit, "Once."
While "Once" laid more of its focus upon the music as connector, Kolirin's "The Band's Visit" is a character-driven film in which Egyptians and Israelis are treated as human beings rather than political enemies.
In the film, an Egyptian police visits Israel to play for the opening of an Arabic Cultural Center. Unfortunately, the band finds themselves in a city with a similar sounding name but, as a local diner owner states, no culture to speak of.
With the next bus not leaving until the next day, the band finds themselves at the mercy of the kindness of strangers, including the previously mentioned diner owner and her patrons.
With only the simplest of storylines, "The Band's Visit" is a beautiful film not because of the story itself but the characters within it.
The band's leader, Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai), is a quietly controlled man whose sense of decorum is incorruptible until he's alone in the confines of a silent room with the compassionate diner owner, Dina (Ronit Elkabetz). Much as was true with the relationship of Hansard and Irglova in "Once," there's a seemingly unspoken and inexplicable connection between Tewfiq and Dina. It is not lust nor pity nor merely compassion towards a stranger. Rather, it seems that the two individuals, at least for this night, fill a void within one another. It is simple, uncluttered and unforgettable.
Then, there is Haled (Saleh Bakri). Haled is the youngest member of the band, a man who fancies himself a Don Juan type and yet a young man who possesses the impatience and immaturity of a man really just starting to get his feet wet in the real world. A scene in which Haled offers advice to another man on how to best approach a woman is a pleasing blend of youthful confidence and surprising tenderness.
You may remember that "The Band's Visit" was unimaginably denied eligibility by the Academy this year during the Oscars due to its excessive use of the English language despite being set in Israel. Rather ironically, the only reason English is spoken is due to it being a necessary plot device as the common language between Egyptians and Israelis.
With his debut film, Kolirin has managed to create a film that defies the political climate and transcends cultural differences by treating Egyptians and Israelis as what the really are...human beings. Instead of being about two countries that are different politically and culturally, "The Band's Visit" is a simple, poignant reminder of how similar we all really are.
Tenderly written, beautifully photographed and patiently directed, "The Band's Visit" is easily one of 2007's best foreign films and, sadly, proof of the archaic and ill-conceived Academy's foreign film guidelines.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic