Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Once, not long ago, a small Egyptian Police band arrived in Israel. They came to play at an initiation ceremony but, due to bureaucracy, 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.”

- opening of The Band's Visit

My favourite film of the festival so far has been The Band's Visit, directed by Eran Koliran from Israel. It was the only one of the four films I’ve seen so far that had the audience laughing and cheering together. An Egyptian police band enroute to a performance at an Arab cultural centre takes a wrong turn and is stranded overnight in a desolate rural Israeli settlement. The town takes in the band for the night, and the tension between the cultures gives way to a prevailing sense of awkwardness. But there are things that cross political boundaries, like the universality of loneliness, love, joy, and music. It takes some humour to navigate through the seriousness of life, and The Band's Visit finds its way with a deft comic touch, both whimsical and moving all at once.

The actors are brilliant, with the band’s conductor Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai) as the stoic leader trying to maintain a sense of dignity in an undignified situation. He plays well off of the other band members and especially with the sensual and self-assured Dina, the Israelli cafĂ© owner who takes in the band, played by the stunning Ronit Elkabetz. The youngest member of the band, Haled, is played by Saleh Bakri with a handsome movie actor charm that wins you over quite easily.
The dialogue is quite clever and some scenes had me laughing hard – the scene where the dashing Haled tries to show one of the Israelis the finer points of dating at the local roller disco had me in tears. The whole cast seems to have taken an advance course in deadpan humour. Director Eran Kolirin has crafted a gentleman of a film - handsomely attired with impeccable timing and charm.

The movie, without being heavy handed about it, really builds to the final scene where the band finally performs together. We’ve gotten to know the individual burdens the band members carry, but to see them come together united in performance is so beautiful and powerful, that the audience cheered and whooped. It was really quite moving to see the band’s conductor Tewfiq, a man who carries himself so polite, so stoic and properly noble, expressing himself so beautifully through song. Even without knowing the language, you know what he is singing. A joy of a film, this is the type of discovery that makes me glad I go to the Toronto International Film Festival each year. 5/5

Official Site: The Band’s Visit

Variety Review: The Band's Visit