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  The Band's Visit

Starring: Sasson Gibai, Saleh Bakri, Khalifa Natour, Ronit Elkabetz

Directed by: Eran Kolirin

Produced by: Eilon Ratzkovsky, Ehud Bleiberg, Yossi Uzrad, Koby Gal-Raday

Written by: Eran Kolirin
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics


As seen at AFI Fest 2007:

     Eran Kolirin’s The Band’s Visit is, in a sentence, a deadpan Israeli picture that juggles light-hearted comedy and human drama. The movie is wholly likeable and entirely inoffensive but, as that brief description would indicate, also neither treads new artistic territory nor engages the audience beyond a conventional degree. As I watched the story unfold, I certainly developed sympathy for its many characters and was somewhat interested in their emotional plights, but not once did the film really impress me or teach me anything new. Sure, The Band’s Visit is a nice piece of work from first-time film-director Kolirin, but there is no reason to seek it out in theatres when it will be available for low-key home viewing in a matter of months.

     The Band’s Visit opens with an introductory line of text that perfectly captures the tone of what’s to come: “Once—not long ago—a small Egyptian police band arrived in Israel. Not many remember this... It wasn't that important.” Indeed, this is exactly what the movie is about; it is a no-frills character drama of little consequence. Veteran actor Sasson Gibai plays Tawfiq, the police band’s stern leader. Tawfiq must take his group to an Arab Cultural Center where they have been invited to play. The process ends up being much more of a chore than he had expected, however, when the men end up taking a bus to the middle-of-nowhere town of Beith Ha-Tikvah (rather than Petah Tikvah, where they are actually supposed to play). With little Israeli money in his pockets, Tawfiq enlists the aid of kind local restaurant owner Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), who offers to help the members of the band find places to stay for the night and then see them on their way to Petah Tikvah the next day.

     The Band’s Visit smartly chooses not to try to gain the interest of the viewer through its rather conventional story. (That is, conventional in a structural sense… not, of course, in the sense that movies about police bands are so common these days.) Instead, the movie focuses on deriving modest pleasures from its off-kilter tone. It is delivered in an ingeniously droll manner, dryly coming to win the audience over. In many respects, Kolirin appears to be channeling the wildly understated style of accomplished Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki. This comparison proves apt in that the viewer comes to sympathize for these characters mainly because they are lovably pathetic, a common tendency in Kaurismäki films. Selah Bakri’s Haled is particularly endearing in this respect. As a means of breaking the tension in dialogue-exchanges, he often asks other characters: “Do you like Chet Baker?” When they respond in a perplexed manner, Haled merely proceeds to uproariously croon Baker’s “My Funny Valentine” in a softly dark manner that is impossible not to be entertained by.

     Clocking in at a painless eighty-seven minutes, The Band’s Visit is a tough movie not to like. Still, there isn’t anything inherently fresh or surprising about it other than its slick, affably maudlin delivery. Fond as I am of the movie, I openly recognize that its concept could’ve just as well made for a good sitcom. In other words, The Band’s Visit is as forgettable as it is satisfying, an ordinary if obliging cinematic concoction.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 11.22.2007

Screened on: 11.4.2007 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, CA.


The Band's Visit is rated PG-13 and runs 86 minutes.

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