Saturday, March 15, 2008

"The Band's Visit"

The Egyptian Police Band arrives in Israel to perform at the Arab Cultural Center in Peta Tikva. When their ride doesn't show up, they manage to catch the last bus of the day despite the language barrier. The bus drops them off in the desolate town of Betah Tikva. But the differences in the two towns is much greater than the first letter of their names. The progressive notion of music bridging cultural divides hasn't reached this abandoned development of Betah Tikva. The bored local cafe owner laments, "There is no Arab culture, no Israeli culture, no culture at all."

The surreal sight of the Arab Police Band in their pressed, sky blue uniforms is a welcome diversion from the monotony of this dead town. So, Dina, the cafe owner (Ronit Elkabert) offers lodging in her home and recruits her neighbors as unlikely good Samaritans. Unemployed Itzik brings some of the band members home to crash his distant wife's pathetic attempt at a birthday celebration. There is obvious tension between the Arabs and Jews who speak their own language among themselves. They speak in a compromise language, English, to communicate to each other. When language fails them, they attempt to connect through music with a weird, impromptu sing-a-long. The clarinet player shares his unfinished concerto. He gains new insight into his creative process from this family that has also stalled. The rejected husband offers him understanding and inspiration, "Perhaps your concerto is about a baby sleeping in the next room and tons of loneliness." It is the expression of solitude that brings them together.

Dina, who has been in one shallow affair after another, seems desperate for any kind of human connection. She must deal with cultural differences in male/female relationships when she tries to tease the emotionally stunted band leader, Colonel Tewfiq Zakria, (Sasson Gabai) out of his shell. He tries to share his love of music but it is so overwhelming that he must resort to sharing his love of fishing instead.

Meanwhile, the superficial heartthrob, Kaled, (Salah Bakri) uses the power of music to pick up women by crooning a Chet Baker tune. Always out for a good time, he invites himself along on an already awkward double date to a disco roller rink. What develops is a touching moment of human kindness and one of the funniest moments in the film.

Despite it's satirical surface, "The Band's Visit," is really a sweet, lighthearted film about people connecting, not politics. It is about breaking down the walls that separate us. It's about hope.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

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