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aka - Bikur Ha-Tizmoret
Israel/France 2007
Directed by
Eran Kolirin
90 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

The Band's Visit

Synopsis: The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra arrives in Israel to play at the opening of an Arab Cultural Centre. No-one is there to greet them and so the band leader, Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai), sends handsome ladies’ man Khaled (Saleh Bakri) to find out where they should go. Due to language confusions between English, Arabic and Hebrew, the men end up at the wrong location, stranded in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. They go to a local restaurant where generous-spirited Dina (Ronit Elkabetz) provides them with a meal. The town has no hotel so eventually the eight Egyptian musicians are billeted among the locals with Dina taking Khaled and Tewfiq home to her place. 

The Band’s Visit is intimate and humble, blending humour and sadness, and cutting straight to the heart of the universal human experience. It has so much heart, evident from the word go, as we see the poor band members, stiff in their starched pale blue uniforms, wheeling tiny suitcases and carting instruments, trying to maintain their dignity in the face of having been forgotten. Their formality as opposed to the more casual and brusque Israeli manner makes for humorous interchange, but as the characters gradually begin to relate, there are many incidents that move from humour to pathos. So many scenes capture the common loneliness, and at times underlying hopelessness, of the characters and yet by the very sharing, and tentative understanding that develops we feel an overwhelming belief that there is a basic bond that unites us all, despite our overt differences.

Nothing is overstated here, there are no grand sweeping gestures or crowd-pleasing resolutions. The relationship between Dina and Tewfiq is enchanting. Gabai, one of Israel’s leading actors, is compelling as the stern man who gradually softens and reveals his pain to the woman who seems so tough, but has also had her share of life’s disappointments. Elkabetz is also a much-awarded leading Israeli actress and her mix of flirtatiousness and seeming insouciance are alluring.

The director has drawn on his own past to make the film - the heart-breaking Egyptian movies that he watched when he was a kid, memories of hearing a broadcast from an orchestra consisting of Arabs and Jews from Iraq and Egypt – and all that has been lost due to the political divisions of the past decades. His film shows us that all need not be lost and the beautiful soundtrack of haunting Arab music and Hebrew songs reinforces that feeling.

I love that the script of this film eschews any mention of Israeli/Arab politics. It is sufficient that as an audience we know that this is the sub-text. In teasing out the fragile threads of communicationThe Band’s Visit could serve as a model for attaining peace in the Middle East.




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