"Once, not long ago, a small Egyptian police band arrived in Israel. Not many remember this. It was not that important." So begins writer-director Eran Kolirin's drily amusing The Band's Visit, a heartfelt comedy-drama distinguished largely by its optimistic humanism regarding the potential for Arab-Israeli relations.
The story concerns the Alexandria Police Orchestra, a small Egyptian band proudly travelling to Israel to perform at an Arab Culture Center in Pet Hatikvah. A misread map leads the band off course to the small town of Bet Hatikvah ("No culture, no Israeli culture, not Arab, no culture at all," they're told). Here, they must rely on the kindness of strangers. The group's stuffed-shirt leader, Lt. Col. Tawfiq Zacharya (Sasson Gabri), is known as "the General." The tightly wound widower is the polar opposite of the band's youngest member, Haled (Saleh Bakri), an incorrigibly flirtatious violinist who bristles under the General's rigid, unspontaneous leadership. The stranded band is welcomed in by a fun-loving restaurant manager named Dina (Ronit Elkabetz of Late Marriage), who attempts to thaw the General's reserve.
Kolirin's film can be self-consciously quirky much of the time, but fares better in its bittersweet passages, such as the scenes in which the General and his host come achingly close to finding comfort in each other. One of the film's prime strengths is its wordless willingness to let the principal characters express themselves through music and mime to overcome cultural barriers (a clever mimed sequence in a roller disco humorously allows Haled to play Cyrano for an awkward local). Kolirin also deserves credit for letting the story play out at its own pace. In the end, The Band's Visit resembles nothing so much as the concerto being slowly, quietly developed by the band's oboist and described as "not sad, not happy...tons of loneliness."
On DVD, The Band's Visit gets a humble special edition from Sony. The presentation is typically good, with a sturdy 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The disc also offers a few bonus features, starting with "The Band's Visit: Making the Fairy Tale" (14:04), a nifty featurette with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and an emphasis on the music and capturing the film's tone. Interview subjects include writer/director Eran Kolirin; actors Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, and Saleh Bakri; and composer Habib Shadah. A Photo Gallery houses approximately 30 production stills. We also get the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:10) and previews for When Did You Last See Your Father?, Married Life, Persepolis, Brick Lane, The Jane Austen Book Club, Steep, Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains, My Kid Could Paint That, Vitus, and Moliere.
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