March 2, 2008

REVIEW: The Band's Visit (A)

Background: Last year's Oscar winner for Live Action Short, West Bank Story, was an uncomfortably funny look at ongoing Palestinian-Israeli tensions. Besides entertaining as a funny spoof, it showed that there is still room for humor amidst the hatred. Young filmmaker Eran Kolirin (local mag The Rake surprisingly caught an interview) picks up where Story left off with The Band's Visit, which was Israel's Best Foreign Language Film submission for this year's Oscars. Unfortunately, the dialogue in the film is in English more than 50% of the time - an automatic disqualification. The Band's Visit was filmed in Israel's Negev Desert and stars Sasson Gabai and Ronit Elkabetz. It's disturbing and shameful that Gabai and supporting actor Uri Gavriel will be recognizable to American audiences from their roles as stereotypical Middle Easterners in Rambo III (Gabai), last year's Rendition (Gavriel), and Iron Eagle I & II (also Gavriel). Such is Hollywood casting, I guess.

Synopsis: Led by the stiff and serious Lieutenant Colonel Tawfiq Zacharya (Gabai), the dysfunctional Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra gets lost on their way to a performance at an Arab cultural center - in Israel. Having arrived on the last bus in or out of Bat Hatikvah, the Egyptians must spend the night. Fortunately, the local cafe manager, Dina (Elkabetz) is a warm and welcoming spirit. The band members are split up for the night, where they awkwardly spend time eating with a local family and enjoying the local nightlife (a roller-skating rink). Obviously, communication between everyone is uncomfortable - and hilarious. Dina , who from the beginning is quite excited about the whole situation, decides to make the most of the circumstances and has no problem flirting with Tawfiq and Khaled, the strapping young trumpetist in the band. Throughout the evening there are scenes of high hilarity and heartwrenching tragedy, and if you haven't learned a lesson by the next morning - well, that would be frustrating, but the fact that you've even decided to see this movie is enough for me.

I Loved:
+ The dinner scene, featuring some of the best writing in the film.
+ The scene in the "park" - starts light-hearted and leaves you crushed. Another great example of the fragility of intercultural communication.
+ The music - played, sung, or otherwise, it was a great frame for the story.

I Liked:
+ The hilarious scenes at the roller-skating rink, capped off by the three-on-the-bench finale.
+ Sasson Gabai and Ronit Elkabetz - excellent acting and believable chemistry. Their relationship is the heart of the film (see the restaurant scene as evidence).
+ The supporting performances by Khalifa Natour (as Simon), Saleh Bakri (as Khaled), and Rubi Moskovitz (as Itzik).
+ The filming location - dusty landscapes, quiet streets, etc.

I Disliked:
- When the roller-skating rink scene started to feel just a bit long.

I Hated:
- Not feeling like I got enough out of the story. It's well paced and never boring, but at 87 minutes you're left wanting more, especially when the writing is so good.


Grade:
Writing - 10
Acting - 9
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 10
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 47/50= 94% = A

Last Word: It seems too easy. That would be the cynical reaction to The Band's Visit, an extremely important film about the universals of culture. The fact is, it should be that easy for everyone to see how similar we all are as humans, but such thinking is rare to find these days. I'm different than you, and that's just the way it is. Of course, I'm not that naive. The Band's Visit is a little syrupy and can be seen simply as another story about seeing past differences, but it can (or could have been?) much more as well. Call it Crash-lite. I look forward to Eran Kolirin's next film, and hope that he again strikes such a perfect balance between humor and tragedy. His personal writing and comedic timing are a great combination, and he was fortunate to have such a strong cast to work with here. Gabai and Elkabetz are especially well-suited to their roles. We literally feel the weight lifted off of Tawfiq's shoulders as he lets his guard down and smiles, and we also intimately know Dina's trapped soul - she wants to get out and see the world, and we're happy that she has this opportunity for an adventurous interaction. Similarly, I'm happy I had the interaction with these delightful characters, and I exited feeling a little more hopeful than when I entered.

8 comments:

  1. I cannot read your review in detail, jut like I couldn't read Craig’s review either, because I want to see this film so damn much, and have no idea when it opens in SA. I have heard nothing but good things about it though.

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  2. Guess I'm gonna have to get my booty down to Edina then, huh?

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  3. I saw this trailer a few weeks ago, and was intrigued. Based on your review, I'm going to be looking for it this weekend. Thanks.

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  4. Nice review of a thoroughly charming film, Daniel. I see what you mean though about feeling like you wanted more, yet at the same time I think the looseness and lack of specificity is one of its charms. It feels like a real moment in time rather than they typical American movie with plot points and an ending that's neatly wrapped in a bow.

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  5. I love the whole "Strangers in a Strange Land" vibe this film has going for it. I most definitely have to see it. Your review was concise, thoughtful, and gave me the critical information I needed to make an informed decision.

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  6. Thanks, friends...

    Nick: Best to avoid, like I always do beforehand. I can't imagine how you're able to maintain a level of ignorance with as long as they take to get to you. Best of luck.

    Nayana: Yiiip, you gon' wan' git' down der'. Not the most convenient, to be sure. It might creep up to Lagoon, but with the upcoming schedule so busy there, this will probably just fade out in Edina in a couple of weeks.

    Pat: Hope you enjoy it. The trailer has done well in setting it up - I don't think you'll be disappointed.

    Craig: Great point indeed. I think movies that span a day or less than a day really are a lot more absorbing and relatable. In this case, I just got caught up in the moment. And "charming" is a great word to describe this one.

    Rick: You're pretty much right on with the feeling, although this is more of a "Strangers in a Strange Land Where They Know They're Not Welcome." Interested to read your review if you catch it.

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  7. Good news!! It's in Las Vegas. Finally a good film has come to "sin city". I haven't read your review yet. I am waiting until I see the movie. -wic

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  8. Hooray - it's a new day in America. It's pretty interesting that in a city that boasts to have the best in arts and entertainment, movies are completely ignored. Probably because 99% of the theaters are in casinos. Actually, that's where everything else is, too, so...I don't know.

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