English Title: The Band’s Visit
Original Title: Bikur Ha-Tizmoret
Country: Israel, USA, France
Language: Hebrew, English, Arabic
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music
Director/Writer: Eran Kolirin
Cinematography: Shai Goldman
Music: Habib Shadah
Out of the context of Egypt and Israel’s historical feud, this succinct awards-winning film (87 minutes) debut from Eran Kolirin may seem to be a prosaic essay about an unfulfilled romance with a few light touches on the quotidian lives in a rural Israeli town through the eyes of a band composed of members of the Egyptian Police Force from Alexandria, who are invited for a cultural event in Petah Tiqva.
The richness in both country’s cultures is cleverly eschewed as well as the usual political slants, the film strands the band in a plain cultural desert, a town named Beit Hatikva due to a heedless mistake made by the young musician Haled (Bakri in his career debut). The leader of the band Tawfiq (Gabai) is a stern but decorous widower, his second-in-command Simon (Natour) is more obliging, and Haled is a small discordance here.
As they have been hemmed in the town for one day, the team has been taken in by the hospitable local eatery owner Dina (Elkabetz) and her friend Itzik (Moskovitz), soon a little spark is kindled between Tawfiq and Dina, who happens to be unmarried as well. Without any forced affectation, the film develops its ultra-simplistic storyline with competent camera movements, naturalistic performances and impactful tableaux, subtly evokes a comedic connection with its viewers and stays afloat with the laughter in the face value, so its grand appeal can reach a more international demography.
There are endearing sequences when Dina and Tawfiq slowly reveals their emotion and past scarred memories, which cogently leads us expect something would happen between them, but realistically, there is more than personal barrier in-between, as Tawfiq says earlier, he represents their country, so it is paramount for him to stand his ground, not in the least for himself, there have been too many troubled histories behind these two countries and he balks at a final move. Meanwhile in the house of Itzik, being the uninvited guest and an awkward onlooker of Itzik’s fractured marriage life, Simon unintentionally finds out a meaningful finale for his unfinished concerto.
Considerably the viewpoint is different in the younger generation, for Haled, courtship for an attractive woman is more a natural instinct than a calculated tactic, even in Israel, he is spontaneous and one most amusing set piece is that his hands-on instructions for a timid virgin Papi (Avraham) to kiss an unappealing girl Yula (Matatov), a magic moment vividly glistens with an unassuming warmth.
Ronit Elkabetz and Saleh Bakri are laudable for the well-crafted allure imbued from their spot-on acting, both squeeze into my top 10 lists while Sasson Gabai is very close for the crammed Leading Actor race. Almost inclusively confined in one-day span, the film is full of witty and tongue-in-cheek episodes and finally a Middle-East film under an apolitical surrounding when the most basic and genuine connections among people dominate the show, as the day passes by, like the tagline says: once a small Egyptian police band arrived in Israel, not many remember this… and it wasn’t that important. A shout-out to Eran Kolirin for this winsome and poised gem.