Monday, April 07, 2008

The Band's Visit


Bikur Ha-Tizmoret
directed by Eran Kolirin
Israel, 2007, 87 minutes
In English, Hebrew and Arabic
Official website: www.thebandsvisit.com

There were so many movies out that I wanted to see this weekend, but my girlfriend picked this one and I'm glad she did. I can't imagine any other choice being as rewarding as this quiet little film that, on the surface, is about nothing much, but below the surface is about universal themes of peace, love and understanding that cut across any cultural divide. And Israelis and Egyptians, woo boy, that's about as big a culural divide as you can ask for. On the surface, that is.

So what's it about? As the film's humble tagline/synopsis describes it, "Once, not long ago, a small Egyptian Police band arrived in Israel. They came to play at an initiation ceremony but, due to bureacracy, bad luck, or for whatever reason, they were left stranded at the airport. They tried to manage on their own, only to find themselves in a desolate, almost forgotten small Israeli town, somewhere in the heart of the desert. A lost band in a lost town. Not many people remember this....It wasn't that important."

Au contraire.

The movie was selected to be Israel's Official Submission to the Best Foreign Language Film Category of the 80th Annual Academy Awards (2008), but it was disqualified by AMPAS because more than 50% of film's dialogue was found to be in English, as opposed to Arabic and Hebrew. That's because the Israelis don't speak Arabic and the Egyptians don't speak Hebrew, so English is the common ground for communication between the two groups (I guess you could say that America, at least in terms of our language, is central to bringing opposite sides together in the Middle East!) After an unsuccessful appeal, Israel sent Beaufort (2007) instead.

The three main characters are Sasson Gabai as Lt. Colonel Tewfiq Zacharya (American audiences might remember him from bit roles in forgettable fodder like Rambo III and Delta Force One), Ronit Elkabetz as cafe owner Dina, and Salah Bakri as a Chet Baker-loving Romeo named Haled who likes to sing "My Funny Valentine" to charm the ladies. All three are outstanding. Gabai, who reminded me of an Arabic Steve Yeager (the Baltimore filmmaker) is the main focus of the film in a restrained, understated performance.


Ronit Elkabetz and Sasson Gitai


"No, really - I am NOT Steve Yeager!"

Suprisingly, Dina is drawn to him, when we naturally expect her to hook up with the younger, more socially adept Haled. It's a rewarding diversion off the beaten track that carries the film as both Dina and Tewfiq eventually peel back their tough exteriors to reveal vulnerable selves below the surface. I didn't realize it, but I had seen Ronit Elkabetz before, as Ruthie the "retired" prostitute mom in Keren Yedaya's Or, My Treasure (2004); she was also in Dover Kosashvili's Late Marriage (Hatuna Meuheret, 2002). This was the screen debut of the tall, good-looking Salah Bakri, but given his photogenic presence and cinematic cool in this film, he's a talent to watch out for in future films.


Rinat Matatov, Shlomi Avraham and Saleh Bakri

This one's highly recommended if you like subtle little films about real people and real life that make you feel real good afterwards.

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