The Band’s Visit is writer/director Eran Kolirin’s account of an Egyptian police band’s visit at the Arab Arts Centre in Israel. From the start at the border, things do not go well as expected. The band led by Lieutenant-colonel Tawfig (Sasson Gabai) is lost but eventually finds online the way through a series of comic misadventures. You can watch how the Arab Casanova of the band, Khaled (Saleh Bakri) uses the opportunity to hook up with a few local girls as well, to hilarious results.
Kolirin pits well the old (Tawfig) and the new (Khaled) ways of thinking. The romantic encounter at a restaurant between Tawfig and Dina (Ronit Elkabetz) is the story’s sweetest sequence.
Kolirin’s humor is wry and often dead pan, reminiscent of Kaurismaki’s Leningrad Cowboy, though not as funny. The words that we get to watch at the start of the full movie describe the band’s visit in Israel as an event that was not so important that not many will remember. Though Kolirin’s debut feature is affable and entertaining, the same can be said of his film which has garnered quite a few prizes including last year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard and the Israel Film Academy’s Best Picture awards.
With increased globalization and the rise of the internet, foreign films are becoming more and more accessible online and with new technology they are becoming easier to produce thereby increasing the number of foreign titles available for free. Amazing movies and auteur filmmakers are arising from unlikely places as a result. Nations which previously had no cinema are now establishing very interesting and unique national cinema styles.
Iran is one of these countries with astounding films from directors like Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi and Mohsen Makmalbaf. Countries with long established cinema traditions are finding global audiences, like the Nollywood in Nigeria. Eastern European countries like Romania and Turkey are also seeing waves of emerging cinemas. And new voices are coming out of countries and bringing a new style and sensibility to the global cinematic landscape.
The Band’s Visit, is a sweet story of a policeman’s orchestra from Egypt that travels to Israel for a performance but arrive in the wrong town. They must spend the night in the small town and with the hospitality of an odd mix of local townspeople they are able to connect with their hosts through their mutual loneliness and their appreciation for music. This is a moving story of personal relationships and how through a chance meeting people online can help each other examine and appreciate the simple free pleasures of life as well as its pains.
The Band’s Visit is full of beautifully composed shots, ones with limited depth of field, some with the band set against desolate vistas, and others in which the space on the frame is filled equally by the characters in the scene. There are many touching moments as some of the characters reveal sad details of their lives with each other. There are also many oddly funny moments, especially one Cyrano-inspired scene which is droll and sincere. The acting is great, especially by the three main members of the band. And most of the townspeople add a touch of comic relief without being overt and foolish.
It’s surprising the quality of movies that have come out of Israel recently, a country which to my knowledge had no previously significant national cinema. But in the past five years or so a number of films have come out of the region that are actually quite extraordinary and worth a watch. The Syrian Bride, Jellyfish by existentialist author Etgar Keret, last year’s Academy Award nominee Waltz With Bashir, and of course this one which was screened at Cannes, are all recent triumphs to come from the tiny nation.
This trend is not isolated however, as there are a multitude of movies from all over the globe that transcend national and cultural boundaries in this unparalleled age of globalization. Whereas once it was a rarity for a foreign movie to reach the same audience as a big budget Hollywood number, now there is a more even playing field. I encourage everyone to watch movies from other countries and cultures that have not been as well known for outstanding cinema, as some of them can be surprisingly original and uniquely fascinating as this one was.