It starts with a solid premise
Some plots just work, and that of The Band’s Visit is one of them. When some bright spark has the idea to send the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Band to perform at a rural Israeli civic centre, they clearly didn’t think through the pitfalls. The welcoming committee fails to show and the bus they board takes them to the wrong village in the middle of the desert. Premise established, it is now up to the screenwriting and that elusive chemistry of filmmaking to score the necessary points.
The tone is everything
First-time Israeli director Eran Kolirin, working from his own script, strikes the perfect blend of drama and humour in his telling of a story that, in less sure hands, could have been grim indeed. Of course, the band’s leader, conductor Tawfiq (Sasson Gabai), is a rule-bound stick-in-the-mud, and of course, he ends up bunking at the home of Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), the sassy and sexy owner of the town’s sole café. To avoid the pitfalls of melodrama or threat, Kolirin employs a Kaurismaki-like Zen deadpan in his pacing and camera placement—better to accentuate the inherent humour in the situations and defuse any apprehensions about violence or tragedy. This film is clearly not about that kind of Arab-Israeli conflict, but a deeper look at human beings bridging wide gulfs.
The players are spirited
Pacing and placement are for naught if one or more of the actors isn’t in the spirit of the proceedings. In The Band’s Visit, they all get it, principally amongst the picaresque characters those of Gabai and Elkabetz. If the two of them can see eye-to-eye, peace could still be just around the corner.
Music heals all
Yet another movie about cultural understanding by way of music, the film employs a whimsical, grin-inducing dinner table rendition of ‘Summertime’ to great effect. Proving once again that George Gershwin may have been amongst the best goodwill ambassadors ever.
The roller disco
The climactic sequence in the local rink, which finds one band member assisting an awkward local youth to cozy up to his date, is a master class in timing, editing and humanist perception.
It’s Oscar worthy-ish
An Israeli-French-American co-production, The Band’s Visit won numerous audience awards at festivals around the world and scored eight Ophir Awards, the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar. Considered a shoe-in for that country’s Academy Award submission for the 2007 Best Foreign Language Film, it was, in fact, selected—but then unceremoniously withdrawn when the Oscar committee decreed it had more English (broken as it is) than Hebrew. “I was pissed off for a few days,” Kolirin told Los Angeles’ Jewish Journal of the decision, “But I’ve gotten over it.” And it is precisely that philosophical acceptance of an arbitrary injustice that elevates The Band’s Visit.
The Band's Visit
Thursday 7 November, 10:40PM on SBS World Movies
Israel, USA, France 2007
Language: Arabic, Hebrew
Director: Eran Korilin
Starring: Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri
What's it about?
This warm, heartfelt movie about love, loneliness and cultural differences stars the late Israeli actress Ronit Elkabetz in one of her most popular roles. It follows the members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, led by the repressed Tawfiq, who after taking the wrong bus on their way to a cultural event, wind up on the doorstep of Dina, a free-spirited cafe owner in a remote Israel village. After informing them they will be stuck there until the next morning, Dina offers to put them up for the night, with help from other villagers.