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With: Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, Khalifa Natour, Imad Jabarin, Tarak Kopty, Hisham Khoury, Francois Kheel, Eyad Sheety, Shlomi Avraham, Rubi Moscovich, Hila Surjon Fischer, Uri Gabriel, Ahouva Keren
Written by: Eran Kolirin
Directed by: Eran Kolirin
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Language: Arabic, English, Hebrew, with English subtitles
Running Time: 87
Date: 05/19/2007

The Band's Visit (2007)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Greet Music

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Written and directed by Eran Kolirin, making his feature debut, The Band's Visit is a member of that great, but underused genre: disparate personalities thrown together by unexpected circumstances, like Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944) or John Hughes' The Breakfast Club (1985). The new film sets up its visual displacement right away, as the eight members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Band from Egypt wait at an Israeli airport, on an almost abandoned, sun-baked platform, vainly hoping that their hosts will pick them up. They stand, starch-stiff in their immaculate uniforms, silent instruments crated at their feet. The leader, Tawfiq (Sasson Gabai) decides to take action. He orders the band's youngest member, a tall ladies man, Khaled (Saleh Bakri) to get directions. But in speaking to an attractive girl behind a counter, he gets the wrong pronunciation and the band winds up in a desolate town on the far side of the country.

By the time the mistake is discovered, there are no more busses for the rest of the day. Fortunately, there's a café. Its loose, laid-back manager Dina (Ronit Elkabetz, also in Late Marriage and Amos Gitai's Alila) offers to help them out for the night. The eight members split up to stay with Dina and her friends in their small dwellings; Tawfiq and Khaled end up with Dina herself. The sensuous and playful Dina invites the sad, withdrawn Tawfiq out for dinner, while Khaled ends up tagging along on a disastrous double-date to a roller disco.

Of course, Kolirin is setting up a parable about Israeli-Arab relations, but the magic of The Band's Visit is that all these situations and relationships dance right on the edge of cutesy and just a hair's breadth away from sentimental. It takes a great deal of skill to strike this balance and effectively pull it off; it's perhaps even more difficult than pulling off a complicated three-hour epic with thousands of extras, props, costumes and effects. When Dina and Tawfiq are onscreen together, they're like apples and oranges; he's rigid and emotionally closed, while she's limpid and invitingly sensual. She flirts with him and he politely resists. But Kolirin keeps these physical attributes firmly within the characters and their personalities; they do not turn into cartoons merely to illustrate Kolirin's point.

What makes the film such a great import is that the Egyptians and Israelis mainly use English to converse; the film, or at least the print I saw, provides subtitles, but only for those unaccustomed to thick accents. Likewise, Khaled likes to use Chet Baker as part of his pickup routine, complete with a sexy, crooned version of "My Funny Valentine." But the overall effect of the English dialogue is that it elevates the characters to the same kind of new level of politeness. They relate to each other as outsiders, rather than as one group visiting another group. This also throws into relief the simple, but civilized concepts of being invited and visiting. It's very touching watching the characters regard one another and interact with one another with tentative curiosity; they almost spur one another on to better behavior. Sometimes when a guest leaves, there's a sense of relief; we can go back to relaxing and being ourselves. But when The Band's Visit ends we feel refreshed and fulfilled. Reign Over Me

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