The Band's Visit

An Egyptian traveling ceremonial police band, scheduled to play at an Arab cultural center in Israel, take a bus into a small sleepy desert town. While asking for directions at a rundown eatery, they discover that they are in the wrong town with a similar name and that there are no more buses leaving until the next day.

This is a sensitive, heart-warming and hilarious fish-out-of-water tale that mixes many contrasting sensibilities for much of its subtle comedy. The story is told visually using people’s facial and body expressions to give us a unique glimpse into these Arab and Israeli characters.

Dressed in their meticulous ceremonial police uniforms, the band makes a bizarre sight in this sparse sand-swept Israeli settlement. Stuck with no accommodations, the restaurant owner, Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), offers her place and that of one of her patrons, to temporarily put them up for one night until the next bus arrives.

Taking place over the course of a single night, we follow the eight band members and its rigid stern conductor, Tawfiq (Sasson Gabai), as they spend the night with the local Israeli townsfolk. The Band and the people of the town don’t speak each other’s language and must somehow communicate using broken English and awkward body gestures.

The Band’s Visit (2007) uses the language barrier to great comic effect, as director Eran Kolirin communicates volumes through a combination of facial and body gestures and strategic camera placement. It’s almost like watching a silent film where the story is told visually to show the absurd humor of the situations.

There are powerful underlying emotions in the subtle physical performances that become more important than what is being said. The actors are all the more mesmerizing to watch as they try to communicate what they cannot with dialogue, and movement becomes the main mode of expression.

Tawfiq, the strict band leader, reminds the band members to be on their best behavior as they represent their country and takes its youngest and most rebellious member under his wing to keep an eye on him. When the free-spirited, sexy Dina invites the stoic disciplined Tawfiq out to a bar for drinks, they make for an amusing contrast as she tries to loosen him up with her playful flirtations.

This is a rare gentle gem of a film that leaves one with a warm feeling of a shared human spirit between strikingly opposed cultures and personalities. By no means a political film, there’s a genuine innocence about the human story that captures how external appearances are often completely in contrast with how we feel inside. 

Meanwhile, Haled, the handsome young romantic member of the band, decides to join a couple of teenagers as they go out to a disco and ends up helping a very shy young man to win over an equally shy and awkward girl. 

There is a timeless fairy tale quality about this film as the strangely quiet town in which the band is stranded for an evening seems to be a cultureless twilight zone where both hosts and guests are curious but suspicious of each other.

This is a deeply satisfying film where nothing really happens, except that people from differing cultures are forced to spend a short intimate time together, and those who are open to it are richer for the experience.



Sally DeSmet said...

Love your reviews - ! Thank you!

Sally DeSmet said...

I've enjoyed your reviews - thank you!

JP said...

Thank you so much Sally. I'm glad you like the reviews and I appreciate your feedback. I think you'll enjoy this film.

Bearz said...

I saw this film in France with French subtitles, which since I read French poorly were of little use. I remember the atmosphere of the film very well and was well pleased to have seen it.