Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Band's Visit: a gentle encounter that transcends Middle East (and all other) politics


The Band’s Visit (“Bikur Ha-Tizmoret”) is a gentle film from Israel, and, as with the film in yesterday’s review, tries to bring people together in personal communication, making external collective political struggles extraneous. Still, the characters have to become real to each other, and need to have something to offer. You can’t take any real communication for granted. What we have in this film by Eran Kolirin from Sophie Dulac Productions is a local social experiment. The film already has major distribution by Sony Pictures Classics; otherwise it (as would “The Visitor”, yesterday) probably would have been included in the current FilmFestDC that has just started.

Here, the situation is that an eight-man police band from Egypt, intending to give an inaugural concert in an Arab Arts Center (apparently in Israel) takes a bus ride to the wrong and winds up wrong town, a small place with no hotels and only a bare coffee shop. So they have to make do with the locals, who take them in and let them spend the night and share meals with their families.

One of the men (Tawfiq, played by Sasson Gabai) was trying to compose a clarinet concerto, and plays a couple of melodies solo. He says he stopped when his wife got pregnant, as if family excludes individual creative activity. Later there is a conversation about “Arab classical music” and we do hear some snippets of it, as well as the “concert” (which includes voice and strings and some characteristic Arab music) in the closing credits. The slender and handsome Halid (Saleh Bakri) more or less becomes a central character with his bit of comedy and constant amorous ambiguity. In an early scene on the bus, we glimpse a bit of hairy leg in an odd shot, as the men are always dressed in the stuffy blue uniforms. (Hopefully it is winter here in the desert.) Halid starts to interact with Lea (I believe (Ahuva Keren) and Papi (a conspicuously hirsute Shlomi Avraham). They stumble around on a roller skating rink and then just sitting side-by-side. Both Halid and Papi, why talking about Papi’s potential “first experience,” seem ambiguous; they seem to have as much affection for each other as for her. Homosexuality is taboo in Muslim culture, but here it is so subtle as to just live as part of a human continuum; rules are made up to make people fit into larger social and political cultures, it seems; they become superfluous here.

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