The Band’s Visit

I take chances at the library. Sometimes I regret it, other times I am pleasantly surprised, such as I was with a foreign film from 2007, “The Band’s Visit” (or Bikur Ha-Tizmore).

From the description on the case, and the pictures, it sounded like it would be a quirky, lighthearted number:

“A fading Egyptian police band arrives in Israel to play at the Arab Cultural Center. When they take the wrong bus, the band members find themselves in a desolate Israeli village. With no other option than to spend the night with the local townspeople, the two distinctly different cultures realize the universal bonds of love, music and life. Set against a breathtaking desert landscape, this cross-cultural comedy  proves that getting lost is sometimes the best way to find yourself.”

I suppose I naturally warm to any story involving traveling, and moreover encounters between different cultures that lead people to learn about themselves.

At first, with little dialogue, and a lot of subtitles, the film is hard to ease into. However as the cast broadens, and the individual characters of the seemingly stern band open up, the film becomes much more enjoyable.

Tawfiq Zacharaya, the band leader, and the authority figure, struck me as a likable character. Older, much more polite to the locals, and weary of them, than his fellow musicians, he’s the rock. Most of the band members are quite tacit throughout the film, save the young fellow, Haled, obviously looking for a good time, and another middle-aged man, who seems deeply burdened with something. He appears delighted to have the company of a husband/ father figure, and his small child, members of the family that he was assigned to spend the night with. Their interactions provide some of warmest moments of all.

The funniest moments were when slick young Haled accompanied two young couples to the roller disco. Papi, an awkward young local, benefited from the direction of Haled, in dealing with a young ‘gloomy’ girl. I laughed out loud when Haled put his hand on Papi’s knee, to silently show him how to comfort the upset girl. The girl responded by placing her hand on top of Papi’s, and the confused Papi then placed his other hand on top of Haled’s. He captured the awkwardness of youth perfectly for any culture.

No wonder the girl is gloomy.
No wonder the girl is gloomy.

The only character that didn’t sit well with me was the small cafe owner, Dina. Rather smug, she waltzes around the influx of men in her very small town, chomping on an apple, sitting with her legs apart, and just pathetically desperate to get some fellow, any fellow, into bed. At some points I pitied her, for being trapped in that community, obviously yearning for new people and excitement. But mostly she proved to be an unsavory character for being vulgar and weak. She’s desperate for a connection with another human, but settles for fleeting, meaningless affairs. She even brags to Tawfiq about being the mistress of a married man who has children. Congratulations, homewrecker.

A very brief film, clocking in at nearly an hour and a half, it provides a decent glimpse into two different worlds. It may be difficult for a Westerner such as myself to appreciate just how different the Egyptian and Israeli cultures would be for those of each respective culture, but I enjoyed the entire presentation nonetheless.

The film’s official website.

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