When Israelis and Egyptians interacted in a way they don’t today

The Band’s Visit

on December 19, 2007 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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Told as a fable, The Band’s Visit is the sweet, touching story of an Egyptian police band on its way to perform at an Arab Cultural Center in one of Israel’s largest cities when, because of a spelling mistake, it ends up instead in an Israeli backwater. There, the band interacts with the mostly accepting, friendly Israeli townsfolk, even as they try to find a way to make it back to their original destination.

Eran Kolirin’s uncommonly assured directorial debut hinges on its characters, and in Ronit Elkabetz, as Dina, the forthright, sensual but emotionally lost waitress, and Sasson Gabai as Tewfiq, the dignified but troubled head of the orchestra, he strikes cinematic gold. Their tentative rapprochement and growing attraction is a marvel of subtle, underplayed emotion and deeply moving, all the more so when weighed against the realities of the cold peace that currently exists between Israel and Egypt.

The Band’s Visit is oddly apolitical—surely the Israelis would have made a bigger deal out of the visit of representatives from the first Arab country to broker peace with their own—and the rest of the cast, except for the group’s suave ladies’ man, Haled (Saleh Bakri), who takes it upon himself to educate a callow Israeli youth in the ways of women, aren’t sketched in as well as they might have been. But if the movie isn’t fully formed, it’s perfectly pitched and always likeable and charming, attributes that are in short supply in today’s cinema.

Distributor: Sony Classics
Cast: Ronit Elkabetz, Sasson Gabai, Saleh Bakri, Khalifa Natour and Imad Jabarin
Director/Screenwriter: Eran Kolirin
Producers: Eilon Ratzkovsky, Ehud Bleiberg, Yossi Uzrad, Koby Gal-Raday and Guy Jacoel
Genre: Drama; English-, Hebrew- and Arabic-language, subtitled
Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running time: 89 min.
Release date: February 8, 2008 NY/LA
Reviewed: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival

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