Bikur Ha-Tizmoret (2007)

BAND’S VISIT, THE (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret)

(director/writer: Eran Kolirin; cinematographer: Shai Goldman; editor: Arik Leibovitch; music: Habib Shadah; cast: Sasson Gabai (Tewfiq), Ronit Elkabetz (Dina), Saleh Bakri (Khaled), Khalifa Natour (Simon), Tarak Kopty (Iman), Ahuva Keren (Lea), Imad Jabarin (Major-general Camal Abdel Azim), Uri Gavriel (Avrum), Rubi Moskovitz (Itzik), Shlomi Avraham (Papi), Hilla Sarjon (Iris); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Ehud Bleiberg/Koby Gal-Raday/Guy Jacoel/Eilon Rachkowsky/Yossi Uzrad/Michel Zana; Sony Pictures Classics; 2007-Israel-in Hebrew and English with English subtitles)

“The 34-year-old Israeli director Eran Kolirin’s debut feature is a good one.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 34-year-old Israeli director Eran Kolirin’s debut feature is a good one, and I can say that even though his film is lighthearted and apolitical it’s nevertheless a profound one considering its hopeful message it leaves for today’s volatile Middle Eastern climate. Writer-director Kolirin films it as a wry comical parable on Israeli-Arab relations that smoothly turns into a human interest story about loneliness and alienation, something people from all over the world can relate to, as it skirts adroitly around being too obvious, too cutesy and too much like a formulaic sitcom.

When the eight-piece Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra under their rigid, dour and old-fashioned polite middle-aged leader Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai) arrive from Egypt dressed in powder blue uniforms, they find their expected ride at the Tel Aviv airport is not there. The band is to perform at an opening ceremony for the Arab cultural center in Petah Tikva tomorrow night. The proud leader refuses to call his embassy for help and asks the band’s ladies man violinist, a Chet Baker fan, Khalid (Saleh Bakri), to get them on the right bus, but his broken English is misunderstood by the airline receptionist and the band takes the wrong bus and ends up stranded in the backwater desert town of Bet Hativa. There’s not only no Arab culture there, but no Israeli culture. The bleak town seemingly only has an apartment high-rise, a cafe, a public phone, and a roller disco. The bewildered band receives hospitality from the thirty-something playfully risqué divorcée restaurant owner Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), who is bemused by the band’s starchiness and after feeding them houses Tewfiq and Khaled for the night in her apartment and gets her slacker friends to house the other band members while they wait for tomorrow’s bus to the right destination.

The film follows the following characters: the growing relationship between the good character opposites, the wonderfully outgoing Dina and the reserved Tewfiq (both played by Israeli Jews)–who go out to a restaurant together and try to sincerely communicate about their past hurts (their almost relationship symbolizes the potential of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict); Khaled, who goes to the roller disco with the shy virgin gas attendant Papi (Shlomi Avraham) and teaches him how to communicate his affection to the opposite sex; and to a lesser degree it follows Simon (Khalifa Natour), the likable milquetoast second-in-command who composed in his youth two measures of a clarinet concerto and just stopped completing it some twenty years ago when he married.

There’s no great payoff scene but it convincingly shows the two longtime “enemies,” the Arabs and the Israelis, are both ordinary people with similar ordinary problems, and the filmmaker cautiously leaves us with the possibility that peace can be achieved if the right people hungering for it were the leaders negotiating. Though the two groups are divided by language, the international language of music, love and humanity are viewed as the way to overcome the language and cultural barriers.

Ironically the Academy disqualified the film as an entry for best foreign picture of 2008 because more than half of the film is in English (though subtitled because the English is accented), but in Israel the popular film won for Best Picture.