The Band's Visit Film Review - An Official 2007 AFI Fest Selection

               

The Band’s Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret) is an extremely simply story about human nature and music. The eight member Egyptian Policemen’s Ceremonial Orchestra waited patiently when they arrived at the airport. They stood, over burdened with luggage and musical instruments, waiting. But no welcoming committee arrived. Hoping to avoid embarrassment at being lost, band leader Tawqif (Sasson Gabai) refuses to call their embassy, insisting that the band can take care of itself. The result: They wind up in a small Israeli town, dropped off by the last bus of the day, still with no real clue where they are. No welcome waiting for them from the new Arabic Cultural center committee.

The only other people in sight are three unconcerned spectators at a food stand on a deserted street. They are curious, but not enough so to break from their daily routine of sitting. After a brief and confusing exchange with Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), the owner of the shop, Tawqif figures out that they have traveled to the wrong town.

Complaints from Khaled (Saleh Bakri), the playboy violist, about aching feet and his growling stomach coerce Tawfiq to settling the group down for their second meal of the day at the small shop. Dina takes note of the band’s dilemma and Tawriq’s pride, then suggests that she and her friends take the band in for the night. Tawfiq and Khaled go with Dina, Simon (Khalifa Natour), the clarinetist and two others go with unemployed family man Itzik (Rubi Moskovitz), the rest settle down at the shop itself, attended briefly by young Papi (Shlomi Avraham).

Sasson Gabai as Tewfiq, Saleh Bakri as Haled and Ronit Elkabetz as Dina in "The Band's Bisit"

Once Dina gets Tawfiq home, she is bound and determined to get him to loosen up. She suggests they go out and talks nonstop about everything and anything. She is hungry for intellectual stimulus from this man who clears has seen a thing or two in the world. Tawfiq, however, remains reserved and dignified, coming out of his shell a little. His inner passion does surface briefly when he finally speaks about the importance of music and his family.

Ronit Elkabetz as Dina and Sasson Gabai as Tewfiq in "The Band's Visit"

Itzik’s family is not happy at all about the guests, especially his wife, since it is her birthday. Nevertheless, they humor the men with a meal and small talk. They even sit still long enough to listen to Simon play his unfinished concerto. Always on the hunt for a good time, Khaled finds Papi and tags along with the younger man for a “night on the town”, becoming the fifth wheel of a double date to a tiny DJed Roller Skating rink. His player skills come in handy as a teaching tool when Papi doesn’t quite know how to approach girls.

(r to l) Saleh Bakri as Haled, Shlomi Avraham as Papi and Rinat Matatov as Yula in "The Band's Visit"

This film ambles on at the steady, comfortable pace of life. It examines how things like regret and melancholy are universal to humanness, just like love. The conflict in this film is not overt, but rather unspoken and internalized, be it between persons or a character with himself. That is a rare quality found in a film because it means you have to completely trust the drama of simple human emotions, relying on empathy to keep the audience engaged. And it works here.

This film contains no violence, no guns; and yes, we do eventually get to hear the band play.

The Band’s Visit is subtitles in English, although it includes characters that speak Hebrew, Arabic and English. This film is a selection within the World Cinema Showcase of the 2007 AFI Fest.

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