March 26, 2008

The Band's Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret)

*** ½ out of ****

“The Band’s Visit” is a charming Israeli film by first-time director Eran Kolirin, who makes a masterpiece with his first time at bat. With Arab-Israeli tensions still affecting the world today, Kolirin takes audiences on a journey beyond geographic, linguistic, and cultural boundaries with ordinary people who find friendship in each other.

In the film, an Egyptian police band travels to Israel to play at the opening of an Arab Cultural Center, but ends up lost in a small town full of some humorous people and laugh-out-loud adventures. In the vein of comedies like “Napoleon Dynamite,” this one takes an all-too-funny approach at humor by slowing the wit and making viewers appreciate each paced moment. Some of the funniest scenes come from slow and awkward moments, particularly when Haled schools an Israeli boy on how to be nice to his unfortunate, unattractive date at the roller rink and when the band’s clarinetist mournfully plays everyone his unfinished “concerto.”

Defying expectation is one of the greatest attributes of comedy, as well, and it is achieved in the man who waits day and night at the pay phone for his love to finally call. In fact, the entire film relies on the characters, whose individual quirkiness generates the overall humor. Superior acting definitely plays a role in achieving the film’s humor based on character, and the actors who play Tewfiq, Dina, and Haled, in particular, finely-tune their characters’ attributes to perfection.

From the first shot of the film, an establishing shot on a white van fit snugly between two columns, there seems to be a sense of confinement, and after the van rolls away, the neatly-lined Egyptian police band in the background stands between two more columns, further hinting at this idea. The type of confinement they represent is perhaps geographic and cultural, particularly since the whole group always looks so out-of-place wherever they are at the beginning of the film, but while cinematography threatens to confine these characters, they depend on reaching past confinement for understanding.

Tewfiq, who is frequently mistaken for a General, outwardly represents the Arabic militant opposition that endlessly inflicts Israelis. His persona, instead, reveals a human who hardly resembles the Israel perception of the group to which he belongs. When Tewfiq first meets Dina, she casually says, “Here there is no Arab culture. Also, no Israeli culture. Here there is no culture at all.” She intends to promote the film’s intention of breaking down cultural barriers to reveal the humans underneath. The characters can only communicate in the international standard language of English, which does represent another barrier for the two parties, but it proves that by reaching past barriers comes understanding, and understanding is what is required of these characters (and humans, in general) in learning about each other.

Overall, with incredible humor and a human message, “The Band’s Visit” represents a triumph of the human spirit.

“The Band’s Visit” is now playing at the Belcourt Theater.

Originally published in the March 20 issue of Versus Magazine: Entertainment & Culture

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