It’s Cannes Month and Kolirin’s new movie will be premiering, so per the Festifest 2.0 rules, I wanted to watch his most acclaimed previous movie. Also, the lead actress just died, and I’ve never seen anything of hers, so this can be a Memorial Screening. That’s a lot of stupid justifications, but they got me to watch this wonderful movie, so it all worked out.
After a bus-ticket foul-up, a self-serious Egyptian band ends up in a rural Israeli town instead of the city where they’re supposed to play their concert (asking for the Arab Culture Center they’re told “No culture – not Israeli culture, not Arab, no culture at all”). The straight-faced humor of their situation, and the visual gag of the neatly-aligned band members with their spiffy blue uniforms in unfamiliar territory immediately brings to mind Kaurismaki (specifically Leningrad Cowboys Go America), which is a good thing. They’re stuck in town for the night, put up by a restaurant owner (the late Ronit Elkabetz) and other locals.
The bulk of the movie is interactions between Elkabetz (Dina, the town’s fading flower, who resents being stuck there), the humorless band leader Tawfiq (Sasson Gabai of Rambo III) and the youngest, least disciplined band member Khaled (Saleh Bakri of The Time That Remains). Tawfiq and Dina express their life regrets, Tawfiq learns to be less harsh with Khaled. Meanwhile Khaled goes out with some younger guys and teaches one of them how to comfort his unhappy date at a dance club.
Ronit Elkabetz steals the film, and this performance would be enough to convince me that she was a powerful actress, but after Scout Tafoya’s great write-up on rogerebert.com I’m determined to see more, especially her Viviane Amsalem trilogy.
From an Indiewire interview:
iW: Did that Egyptian band really exist?
Kolirin: Nothing is real in the movie.
iW: I’ve heard the film is banned in Egypt.
Kolirin: It doesn’t apply just to my film. Any Israeli film would be banned in Egypt.
P. Utin in Cinema Scope:
The films of the Cinema of Disengagement are characterized by their tendency to avoid politics in noticeable ways … The Band’s Visit highlights one of the cardinal differences between the Cinema of Disengagement and the political cinema of the past. By addressing “everyone,” by refraining from preaching or taking a clear political stand, the new Israeli cinema is able to draw audiences at both foreign film festivals and the box office that may have disagreed with certain strong political opinions: it invites universal identification. But after the films have finished, the iceberg effect allows viewers to think about what they have seen, and even to discover that the films are charged with further content.