The Band’s Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret, Eran Kolirin, 2007): Israel

4 02 2008

What a wonderful way for me to start off the SBIFF (not including the opening night festivities). In his first feature writer-director, EranKolirin, presents a poignant, well paced, dry comedy. While The Band’s Visit addresses several prevalent cultural issues, including the state of Arab-Israeli relations, the story and characters are never outweighed by them. This film, Israel’s official submission for the best foreign language film Academy award, was disqualified due to the fact that more than half of the dialogue was in English. This is unfortunate, not only because the English used in the film would be very difficult for any native speaker of the language to understand without subtitles (don’t worry, they have them) due to the actors’ heavy accents, but because language and miscommunication is a major issue in the film. English is the only language the characters could efficiently andrealisticly communicate.

The eight piece Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, led by the straightlaced, tight lipped Lieutenant-colonel Tawfiq Zacharya, played impeccably by Sasson Gabai, have been invited to Beit Hatkiva to play the opening ceremony of an Arab cultural center in the Israeli city. They arrive in the country to no welcoming commitee, or even a ride to the event, and it is immediately apparent they have been forgotten. Rather than appeal for help from the embassy,Tawfiq insists on making their own way to the cultural center. Charged with the task of purchasing the bus tickets for everyone, ladies man and bad boy of the band,Khaled (Saleh Bakri ) is distracted by a beautiful woman at the ticket desk and purchases bus passes to the wrong city. Stranded in a bleak backwater desert town that seems almost deserted, with no bus until the morning the band seeks refuge in a small restaurant. They are taken in by Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), the beautiful, straightforward owner of the cafe, who first offers them lunch and later, a place to stay for the night. Dina also seems to take an interest inTawfiq right from the start, which unsettles the very traditional man. Each member, still clad in their hideously wonderful, powder blue uniforms, embarks on his own one night adventure.

Rarely do you see a film depend so much on silence for it’s comedic presence. This is displayed perfectly during both an awkward exchange at a pay phone, as well as an almost too awkward to bear seduction tutorial scene. Action is minimal tononexistent in this film and the set is almost completely barren and devoid of life outside of our main group of characters. It is a simple story, droll comedy where not all that much happens, and that is perfectly fine.

Writer-director EranKolirin is one to watch in the future, as he has taken virtually no set, and virtually no action or major plot twists, and created an absolutely enjoyable, and genuinely funny film. His first feature posses an underlying wisdom in regards to larger issues in the world. If the opportunity presents itself, this is a must see film.

This review was originally posted here.

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