Life’s charms, and by extension a movie’s, lie to some degree in the normal unexpected.
Now by normal unexpected, I mean events that disturb the stable rhythm of life without triggering catastrophic consequences.
These unanticipated events, often striking at most inopportune moments, create discomfort but also add zing to what’d otherwise be a banal birth-to-death tedium for most of us.
The Band’s Visit (2007) exemplifies the charms of the normal unexpected when an Egyptian police band takes the wrong bus after arriving in Israel.
Absence of the P sound in Arabic is what triggers the miscommunication at the airport, leading the police band to head off to the wrong place.
Director/Writer Eran Kolirin weaves a beautiful tale out of the simple mistake of the Alexandria police band ending up not in their intended destination of Petah Tiqva, where they’re to perform the next day, but in the tiny town of Bet Hatikva in the Negev Desert.
By the time the members of the orchestra realize their mistake, the last bus for the day has already left Bet Hatikva leaving them stranded in a strange, small town.
So begins a delightful movie that stretches from noon to mid-morning of the next day.
At the request of the band’s stern leader Tawfiq Zacharya (Sasson Gabai), a local restaurant owner Dina (Ronit Elkabetz) assists the band’s members to stay in the town overnight.
A few members of the orchestra sleep at the restaurant, a couple stay with Dina and the rest go to the home of an unemployed guy who happens to be at the restaurant during the arrival of the band.
Thanks to the skilful story telling of Kolirin, we get to peer into the lives of Tawfiq, Dina and to a lesser degree into that of the other band members, the unemployed guy and his family.
We look at their past, the affecting events of their lives and understand why they are what they’re currently.
Like with all touching human stories, our characters display a medley of emotions including confusion, diffidence, sadness and humor.
Stern or flippant surface behavior in life often mask a longing or deep anguish over loss of loved ones, missed opportunities and thoughts of what could have been.
On the humor side, the visit to the dance/skating club by a hyper-priapic member of the band along with two local Israelis is a hoot.
For some men, wooing a girl requires some hand-holding. 😉
Talented as the whole cast is, it’s the main characters, Sasson Gabai and Ronit Elkabetz, who steal the show.
Gabai and Elkabetz are remarkable performers, stretching the meaning of the word realism in the acting realm.
Like with all endearing movies, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts in The Band’s Visit.
The Band’s Visit is one of those rare timeless movies, continuing to charm cinemaphiles who stumble upon this pleasing Israeli gem.
Although the Alexandria band did not reach its destination initially, the movie easily did with discerning movie-goers.
Unsurprisingly, this gem won a plethora of encomiums including a (botched) nomination for Best Foreign Film Oscar.
What a shame that our Bollywood schlemiels continue to play the quantity game, churning out one atrocity after another while Denmark, Sweden, Israel, South Korea and France take the honors in fine cinema.
For those who delight and support good cinema, The Band’s Visit DVD is available on Netflix.