The Band's Visit (Bikur Hatizmoret)



This review was written for the festival review of The Band's Visit (Bikur Hatizmoret).

CANNES -- The Israelis don't exactly put out the red carpet for an Egyptian police band in this radiant and wise comedy about a benign miscommunication between the two countries. Set smack dab in the outer sands of Israel, "The Band's Visit" (Bikur Hatizmoret) shows what you can do with virtually nothing for a set and no big boxoffice elements -- you can make a terrific film about people.

Spry and laced with understated wisdom, "The Band's Visit" could be a winner on the U.S. select-site circuit. Best, this glorious road show also posits larger themes, not only about the relations between the countries but of mankind. And it does so with such deferential grace and good humor that the grandness of the themes never get in the way of the entertaining scenario.

A "little" film with a great reach, it met a crescendo of applause in its Un Certain Regard screening. Underscored with droll comedy and counterpointed with unexpected revelations, this film is an oasis of creativity in the often barren bigness of a festival.

Outfitted in musical-comedy style, powder-blue uniforms, a small Egyptian police band lands in Israel as part of a cultural goodwill exchange. Alas, good intentions do not always ensure welcome follow-up. The proud little group arrives at the airport with no reception or greeters and no way to connect with either country's officialdom. What to do in a strange and historically hostile environment?

Every step, most uproariously, is in the wrong direction, and the band ends up in a far-flung desert town. Under the baton of their head officer/singer, they are regarded by the locals as an amusing oddity. Fortunately, hospitality is extended by a local restaurant worker, Dina, who offers her tiny apartment for two band members and inveigles a cohort to house the rest of the musicians.

Juxtaposing the group's desperation with their individual peccadilloes, filmmaker Eran Kolirin has composed a delightfully dry comedy. Unexpected connections and friendships develop as everyone undertakes to make do of the screwy situation.

Robustly spare, the film is graced by precise and superbly modulated performances, highlighted by Sasson Gabai's restrained work as the tight-laced leader and Saleh Bakri's effervescent aplomb as the band's free spirit. As the generous hostess, Ronit Elkabetz's rich and rambunctious performance resonates throughout.

Similarly, the technical contributions are precise and powerful. Shai Goldman's spry visual compositions and framings are hilarious and eloquent, while Habib Shehadeh Hanna's score enlivens with all the right grace notes.

Bleiberg Entertainment
July August Prods., Sophie Dulac Prods.
Screenwriter-director: Eran Kolirin
Director of photography: Shai Goldman
Production designer: Eitan Levy
Music: Habib Shehadeh Hanna
Editor: Arik Lahav-Lebovitch
Tewfiq: Sasson Gabai
Haled: Saleh Bakri
Simon: Khalifa Natour
Dina: Ronit Elkabetz
Itzik: Rubi Moscovich
Avrum: Uri Gabriel
Camal: Imad Jabarin
Running time -- 80 minutes
No MPAA rating