The Band’s Visit
Take the Time for Discovery

The tag line for this movie is, “Once, not long ago, a small Egyptian police band arrived in Israel. Not many remember this… it wasn’t that important.” That pretty much sums up this movie. Its humdrum pace moves a slow story along very slowly.

That certainly may seem to put quite a negative spin on this witty and important movie, but that’s not my intent. I would say if you are looking for an action movie, don’t see this film; its pace is intentional, and will most likely be a problem with many American moviegoers. Action, sex, and drama allow us to escape; movies like this force us into a conversation we may find uncomfortable, yet quite rewarding in the end.

Sasson Gabai as Tewfiq in The Band's Visit

The story is about an Egyptian (Muslim) police orchestra which has been asked to do a concert in an Arabic cultural center in Israel. When they arrive at the airport there is no one to there to meet them, so they comically look for alternate transportation. Their newest member and wanna-be playboy Khaled attempts to charm the woman working at the bus station and proceeds to book his group on a bus to the wrong townwhich angers his superior Tewfiq, who already is dealing with political issues back home leading to budget cuts that might do away with his band.

They end up stranded in a very small Israeli town with no place to go, and no one to talk to. With his men tired, hungry and alone in a ethnically hostile environment, the stoic leader finds aid in an unlikely but hospitable café owner named Dina, who is pretty, gregarious, and witty, yet lonely and strong willed. Dina finds herself immediately attracted to the much older and much stodgier Tewfiq, which makes for a humorous odd couplebut even a better metaphor for the ways in which two separate cultures can learn to love one another. Dina takes Tewfiq and Khaled (who is forced to come along by Tewfiq as a punishment for booking the bus to the wrong city) to her home for the evening, while the rest of the group follows the other hosts to their homes.

The movie then develops three different scenarios played out by band members and their hosts. Tewfiq and Dina go out for dinner; Khaled becomes a “Fifth Wheel” on a double date with one of the hosts, Papi, a shy, demur young man, who is forced to double with his girlfriend, his cousin, and her less-than-attractive silent sister; the rest of the band heads off with Itzik to eat with his family, which quite obviously disdains Arab Muslims.

All three scenarios demonstrate their own unique comedy and tension, but all three of them reflect our struggle to relate to one another, especially when those struggles involve meeting someone different from us. We so badly want to connect with people on a deep level and feel loved by someone else; but our prejudices and quirks keep us at bay and force us to retreat into pretense and personal gain. This movie wants us to feel what happens when humans get together and leave their hatred and misconceptions at the door; it wants to coerce us into facing one another. We may just find that we have similar interests, care about many of the same things, and actually are not that much different from one another. We may find that we have been settling for seconds when we could have a smorgasbord.

We soon find out that Dina grew up watching Egyptian films with Omar Sharif, and Itzik’s family loved the concertos played by Simon (the band’s second in command). What we find in this film is that hospitality, and sharing of our interests and desires can often overcome years of hate and misconception. Director Eran Kolirin confirms this when he writes in the film’s promotional materials, “What’s certain, though, is that we’ve lost something on the way. We traded true-love for the one-night stands, art for commerce, and human connection, the magic of conversation, for the question of how big a slice of the pie we can put our hands on.”

Kolirin does a fantastic job of communicating a cross-cultural and political message without preaching at us or making us hold hands and sing “We Are the World.” Instead, he takes his time demonstrating the point, allowing us to feel what it’s like for tension to be relieved through hospitality, mutual sharing, and love.

It will take a patient and astute moviegoer to enjoy the fine nuances of this film, but in the end it will be worth it. The best things are discovered through enduring and thoughtful searchingwhich is precisely what this movie says to us.

The Band’s Visit is rated PG for “brief strong language.” In spite of its tedious pace, thoughtful theme, and subtitles, the film would really be suitable for the whole family. There is just one short and veiled reference to sexual activity.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Mike attended a press screening of The Band’s Visit.