Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Band's Visit (2007)

Here's something we don't get enough of these days: the simple, sweet, character-based comedy. Most American movies these days are so plot-heavy that it's refreshing to see a film with just enough story to set its characters in motion, and once they're bumping into each other director Eran Kolirin can sit back and let his fine cast do the rest of the work, without needing to juice the proceedings with melodrama or contrivance.

The premise is simple: an Egyptian Police band, travelling to perform at an Arab cultural center, gets lost and finds themselves in a backwater Israeli town. There, the proud, bottled-up leader of the band (played by a terrific Sasson Gabai) asks for help from the saucy owner of a barely-open restaurant (Ronit Elkabetz). The film proceeds as a string of finely-realized emotional moments: one Egyptian is inspired by the melody of an Israeli lullaby; an girl-shy Israeli takes tips from the ladies' man of the Egyptians, and so on, with no big moments, just a soft, carefully nuanced series of moments.

What's most striking in the movie is its careful insistence on putting the Arab-Israeli conflict in the background, always present but never addressed by the film in any way beyond a basic constant tension, and one Egyptian's discreet placement of his cap over a photo of an Israeli tank. While the movie could be seen as a fairy tale of uncomplicated Mideast peace (why don't the Palestinians just exchance flatbread recipes with the Israelis and call the whole thing off?) the filmmakers succeed in balancing sentiment and realism in a satisfying, refreshing way.



Craig Kennedy said...

You pretty much nailed what's so good about this lovely little film.

No American plot points and overwrought drama. Very little politics. Just people out of their element and using it as an opportunity to reveal themselves rather than close themselves off.

American movies are so impatient, needing to get to the next plot complication. The Band's Visit, in a very entertaining nutshell, is a fine example of one appeal of foreign films.

Evan Derrick said...

I loved this film, Jeff. I couldn't wife the goofy grin that it placed on my face for anything. The extended take at the roller disco was just exceptional in its timing, humor, and insight into the human condition. Too bad movies like this don't get made in America very often, and even when they do, no one goes to see them.