The Band's Visit (2008)





THE SCOOP
Director:  Eran Kolirin
Cast:  Sasson GabaiRonit ElkabetzSaleh Bakri
Plot:  A band comprised of members of the Egyptian police force head to Israel to play at the inaugural ceremony of an Arab arts center, only to find themselves lost in the wrong town.

Genre:  Comedy / Drama

Awards:  Won FIPRESCI Prize and Un Certain Regard (Cannes).
Runtime:  87min
Rating:  NC16 for brief strong language.

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)

A number of world cinema's best films of the last decade originated from the Middle East.  Well-known examples include Abu-Assad's Paradise Now (Palestine, 2005), Majidi's The Children of Heaven (Iran, 1997), Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry (Iran, 1997), and Gitai's Free Zone (Israel, 2005).

Middle Eastern cinema is a rich source of films that make profound statements about the human condition, often in ways warm and vibrant. Eran Kolirin's The Band's Visit may not be in the same league as films mentioned above, but it is a welcome detour away from the congested Hollywood highway.

The Israeli film centers on a popular Egyptian police ceremonial band on a road trip to Israel to perform traditional local music in a cultural exchange and appreciation event.  Along the journey, they became lost and helpless.  Until they chanced upon an old suburb inhabited by a few local folks whom were kind enough to provide them with lodging and food for the night.

The Band's Visit pokes fun on the hilarious situations that arise due to miscommunication and the lack of awareness of different cultures.  Yet it is tacky in tackling such issues which may court controversy, especially if the script lacks sensitivity. 

Kolirin keeps music to a minimal in the film even though it is about a band that performs music.  The relevance of music to its narrative is less significant than other aspects such as character interaction and the observance of human nature when it comes to love and friendship.

The Band's Visit allows viewers to acquaint to the main cast rather quickly by not indulging in too long an introduction.  The cinematography may not be top-tier, but it manages to capture a vast and desolate land plagued with constant heat and dryness.  This is further highlighted by the bright blue uniforms that fully cloth the perspiring members of the band - a strange sight in a somewhat alien environment they find themselves in. 

The Band's Visit features a sequence that is simultaneously hilarious and poignant - an incompetent young Israeli man attempts to console a shy local woman whom he has rejected for a dance with the help of a play-boyish member of the Egyptian band.  This encapsulates what the picture is trying to drive at - the importance of co-existence no matter how different our backgrounds are, and that love transcends cultures.

One of the downsides of The Band's Visit is its short runtime and the lack of scope.  It ends as abruptly as it starts.  While that may not be necessarily detrimental to the film, the filmmakers could have widened the range of their film and not limit the entire picture to just a small isolated town.  The Band's Visit is by no means a great achievement of cinema, but despite its flaws, there is still enough material to satisfy fans of foreign language films. 

GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)









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