I enjoy cross cultural movies with positive images. Particularly if they are set in Israel or show Jewish-Arab/Muslim/Palestinian relations. This was not the only reason I enjoyed The Band’s Visit, but it was a big part of it. Every time I see/read something like this I hope that the forces of good increases on all sides. By good I mean those who respect the human being in the other no matter what the differences are in race, religion, age, or lifestyle. This movie (IMDB) combined the best of these.
The story is straightforward: an Egyptian police orchestra gets lost in Israel for a day, when they come to play at the inauguration of a new Arab cultural center. They accidentally end up in the bleak desert town of Bet Hatikvah instead of bustling Petah Tikvah. There the locals help them out and put them up for the night. Most of the movie shows the bright blue uniformed Egyptians interacting with the locals, who all have their own problems.
The most complex character is Tawfiq’s the band leaders. It is quite an amazing process to learn more and more of his layers. We start off by not liking him because of his authoritative rulership style. After all, he enforces keeping up appearances even under dire circumstances. He also does not let the soft clarinet player to conduct, despite decades of hoping to do so. But in the heat of the night we slowly learn through conversation his personal tragedies of losing his son and wife. He blames (probably rightfully) himself for the first that caused the second. Meanwhile he acts as a mensch when with his seductive hostess. The realizations of the night helps him to show passion and understanding to the young stud of the band, who he earlier reprimanded heavily. Then at the very end of movie we see and hear him doing something quite unexpected, which shows puts his whole being in an entirely new light. That last scene not just shows him from an astonishing angle, but also makes ask question to what extent can we know him or anybody.
One aspect of the movie really surprised me. The town in the middle of the desert reminded me so much of the eastern European apartment blocks. The architecture was monotone and the inhabitants were beyond despair. It was depicted as little to do in terms of jobs or activities. There was some, but in general the level of stimulus the natives were exposed to was minimal. That includes sounds. I have been living in cities in all my life with only short excursions to nature. But I rarely experienced the kind of silence this movie projected. I am talking about the abandonment of the convention of having background music or noise at every moment of a movie experience. This extenuated the deafening silence these people lived in. In some cases the silence reflected the emptiness of their lives. In other cases it covered their pain. But out of the pain (of a marriage in rambles) the long-awaited overture of a concerto was born. Out of pain new forms of relations were born.
From what I wrote you may not suspect that this is a comedy. It is, with plenty of little inside jokes making fun of the similarities of the different groups. At the same time it does not cover up the political discomfort Egyptians might feel when they have to look at a picture of an Israeli tank I Egyptian territory, while having lunch. I take that back, they do cover it with a police hat. That’s the whole point it is present yet covered as non-important.
I want to close with three details/images that stuck in my mind. The actress playing Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), the friendly and lively restaurateur, reminded me so much of Kate Winslet that it was distractig at some times. The scene where the shy Israeli boy is taught by the not-so-shy Egyptian how to court an ugly duck girl is the sweetest I have seen in a long time. Finally the segment, where three of the musicians, who we have not learned much about earlier, perform a song in the middle of the night in an empty bus-station was not connected in any way to the rest of the story. But it was still an integral and beautiful, part of the movie.
When Tawfiq conducts his hands move like it would be the most important thing in the world. And there and then it is. I liked this mindful movie that helped me to slow down and remind me how to relax after years of being busy with school and work at the same time. Maybe the memory of what is really important will linger on in me for a while