Movies you might have missed: “The Band’s Visit”

The 2007 film The Band’s Visit concerns the unexpected adventure experienced by an Egyptian ceremonial police band traveling to a small Israeli town where they have been invited to perform.

The band is led by a proper and disciplined man. His number two officer is loyal, efficient and humble. He also leaves the impression that his hopes in life were left unfulfilled. He acts as something of a counterweight to the stricter leader of the group. Among their ranks is also a rakish youth with flirtatious habits and a rather casual approach to his duties. At the drop of a hat he’ll start warbling Chet Baker’s “Funny Valentine” to any young girl who crosses his path.  

Due to some subtle linguistic mishaps the band arrives in the wrong community. The town is a rather desolate outpost. When the commander presents himself to the first locals they meet he inquires as to the location of the Arab cultural center. He is met with the reply that there is no Arab cultural center as well as no Israeli cultural center, in fact there is “no culture of any kind”.

With few transportation or lodging options open to them they are forced to delay their departure and bed down as strangers in a strange place. The locals are hospitable however and in some ways appreciate the diversion these visitors bring to their lives, although the Egyptians in their somewhat preposterous powder blue uniforms are as out of place as ice cream on the Passover table. As the evening wears on they open up to each other about the detours their lives took, their regrets and the simple pleasures that make their days a little brighter.

There are moments of comical mishaps as well as great tenderness but mostly there is the commonality of the human experience – how each of our lives face many of the same challenges regardless of cultural background or national origin.

The Band’s Visit is a gentle film from a part of the world so often associated with conflict and discord. The film is also an observant and honest portrayal of small town life, as well as the challenges our comfort level faces when confronted with both unfamiliar surroundings and unfamiliar people. In an amusing scene, one of the band members sits slurping soup in a tiny cafe. As he dines he notices that hanging near his head is a framed photograph of an Israeli tank at war. When no one is looking he hangs his hat on the wall to obscure it.

Actor Sasson Gabai is perfect as the proud, composed, but never arrogant leader of the ceremonial band. Ronit Elkabetz shines as the confident local woman who befriends the band members and acts as something of a guide during their brief stay. Her style and verve is ill-placed in this sleepy windswept burg and she is pleased to let the outsiders bring a little change of pace to the dry life of the community.

Those with a subtitle phobia need not fret: most of the film is in English, the language that the two cultures share the most and often communicate to one another in. The performances in the film are sincere and the brief interludes of Middle Eastern music are a joy.


The Band’s Visit

Release date: November 12, 2007 (USA)

Written and Directed by: Eran Kolirin

Mudic by : Habib Shadah

Starring: Saleh Bakri, Ronit Elkabetz, Sasson Gabai, Uri Gavriel

DVD release date: July 29, 2008

MPAA rating: PG-13

Running time: 90 minutes