Director: Eran Kolirin
Recently, there’s been much discussion and press regarding the historic cultural exchange that found New York’s world renowned Philharmonic Orchestra traveling to North Korea to play for the country’s most powerful and privileged. Although the number of negative aspects to that controversial decision seemed to outweigh the positives as evidenced on the nightly news, heroic Madeleine Albright said it best when she appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and explained that it is a positive thing because it opens up a cultural exchange and may be the start of a better relationship between the countries. With culture, perhaps, comes the idea of universality and recognition that despite our differences, we are more alike than one thinks so in the spirit of culture or music more specifically tearing down walls to overcome clashes of countries, we have the most surprisingly touching and funny foreign film of last year with Israel’s The Band’s Visit.
In a film my mother repeatedly described as “precious” until I realized that that is undoubtedly the correct word, television director Eran Kolirin makes his feature film debut with this foreign gem about eight members of the small Egyptian police band the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra who leave their native country to journey to Israel where they have been invited to play at an inaugural celebration for a new Arab Arts Center, only to find after a bus leaves them in the middle of nowhere that due to a pronunciation and spelling miscommunication, they’ve showed up in the wrong town. With their light blue long sleeved formal uniforms standing out in the beige, expansive desert, visually they seem as separate as can be until the group makes the acquaintance of a beautiful restaurant employee named Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), who, along with her coworker decide to take the men in for the night of food, shelter, and conversation until they can catch the next bus the next day.
Gentle, sweetly touching and witty, the film sneaks up on viewers similar to The Station Agent in showing how seemingly opposite individuals can find themselves bonding with people at whom they may never have given a second glance. As we follow the men through the night, we become particularly drawn in by the stories of the band leader Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai) who forms an unlikely bond with his lovely hostess and the charmingly mischievous, handsome ladies man (Saleh Bakri) who tags along on an awkward double date, only to branch out from his usual pickup line of “Do you like Chet Baker?” by assisting a young man in overcoming his shyness around women.
Winner of Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival as well as grand prizes in Munich, Tokyo, Zurich and other countries including earning the awards in every single major category of Israel’s Film Academy Awards, The Band’s Visit was the country’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Academy Award but was disqualified when it was discovered that more than 50% of the picture had English language dialogue. While it was unfortunately denied a greater and much needed introduction to American audiences through the Oscars on a technicality, hopefully those who enjoy finding obscure critically acclaimed and award winning films will be sure to seek out The Band’s Visit for their own personal cultural exchange.