Judge Clark Douglas tried to start a band. Unfortunately, the concept of accordion and kazoo covers of Barry White songs never caught on.
Once—not long ago—a small Egyptian police band arrived in Israel. Not many remember this…it wasn't that important.
Among my friends and family, I am frequently referred to as "the movie guy", or something along those lines. That reputation leads me into a lot of conversations about movies with people. There are two questions that I am asked on a somewhat regular basis. The first question is, "Which films do you think are the greatest films of all time?" The second question is, "Which films are your favorite films?" My answers are often comprised of entirely different sets of films. There are films that I consider to be cinema's great masterpieces. Movies like Citizen Kane, Chinatown, Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Winter Light, and Vertigo go in this category. As great as these films are, they are not the ones I find myself returning to again and again. There's another sort of movie that I have an extraordinarily deep affection for.
For some reason, the movies I keep revisiting are films that have an exceptionally deep level of compassion for it's characters. Films like The Shawshank Redemption, Casablanca, Ikiru, A Prairie Home Companion, and Fargo. These movies are all vastly different, but there is a general sense of sad tenderness that ties them all together in my mind. These are films that present us with unique, three-dimensional human beings that we can relate to and care about. They are touching portraits of humanity that superbly replace cheap sentiment with genuine honesty. The Band's Visit is a film like that.
The Band's Visit opens with a shot of eight forlorn men in uniform, standing in a row at a train station. The men are all members of a police orchestra from Egypt. They have been sent to Israel to play as a gesture of good faith. The conductor (Sasson Gabai) of the orchestra walks across the street to a nearby restaurant, and asks the owner (Ronit Elkabetz) how to get to the Arab Culture Center. She squints at him and replies, "There is no Arab Culture Center."
"No Arab Culture Center?"
"No culture," she states emphatically. "No Arab culture. No Israeli culture. No Arab Culture Center."
The conductor is distressed by this news. The conductor is a very well-mannered man, and hesitates at the thought of imposing on this woman. However, he works up the courage to ask if they could stay the night. A few go to one man's house, a few go to another person's house, and two go with the woman. One of these two men is the conductor. The other is a young stud named Haled (Saleh Bakri), who has a reputation for flirting with women. He immediately makes his move on the restaurant owner, and she immediately dismisses him. She is far more interested in the conductor, who is evidently a good and kind man despite his stiff demeanor. The Band's Visit tells the story of what took place between these two lonely souls over the course of one quiet night.
The Band's Visit has been described as a comedy, but it is rare to find a comedy with so much sadness running underneath it's core. This film would make a nice double-bill with something like The Accidental Tourist, another so-called "comedy" that uses humor to add some level of warmth to proceedings that would otherwise be emotionally devastating. The Band's Visit uses it's humorous moments wisely. They always appear at just the right moment, but never intrusively enough to disturb the film's dramatic impact. There is a wonderful scene in which Haled attempts to demonstrate how another young man should go about seducing a girl. There's a hilariously peculiar series of events that take place around a public telephone.
I want to tell you more about this film, but to say much more about this short and simple story would simply be saying too much. This much I can say with unwavering certainty: check out The Band's Visit. I promise you will not regret it. That, and the observation that the performances by Sasson Gabai and Ronit Elkabetz are so natural that they do not feel like performances. This is a tender and beautiful little movie that should not be ignored or forgotten about by the movie-loving public. It's so quiet and unassuming; this is the sort of movie that so frequently slips between the cracks and fades away. Please don't let that happen.
The only thing that concerns me here is the DVD transfer, which ranges from acceptable to poor, but never hits the level of being impressive. Certain early scenes are particularly bad, with very little detail being provided in most of the long shots. The quiet color design is easy on the eyes, though. The sound is solid, with an eclectic batch of melancholic melodies working their way into the fabric of this film quiet subtly. The sole special feature here is a brief little featurette. Well, and a photo gallery, if you like that sort of thing.
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• "The Band's Visit: Making the Fairy Tale"
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