This week, I had the wonderful opportunity to view again Eran Kolirin’s The Band’s Visit ביקור התזמורת. This is a seemingly simple film, but filled with human angst and sensitivity. The film won awards and attention internationally and even though it was sent by Israel to compete for the Academy Award for best foreign language film, it was not considered due to the fact that more than half of the film is in English.
When the members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Band come to play at the dedication of a new Arab Cultural Center in Petah Tikva, they are left waiting at the airport. Wanting to fend for themselves, they set out looking for their destination and mistakenly end up in a small Israeli desert town, on the edge of nowhere. They are stranded there for the night, and this is the strange story of the encounters of the members of the band with the citizens of the town.
A charming film about human encounter, about loneliness, about people who pass in the night and reach out to each other, about people who have the opportunity to both give and receive.
During the evening, Khaled (Saleh Bakri, the talented son of Mohammed Bakri) goes with one of the local fellows, Poppi, to the town roller skating rink. The self-confident and romantic Khaled ends up helping Poppi, who is inexperienced with women, in his efforts with his date. It is a charming scene and also a choreographed dance -- Khaled places his hand on Poppi’s knee, and then Poppi places his hand on the girl’s knee; Khaled strokes Poppi’s knee, and then Poppi strokes the girl’s knee, Khaled places his arm around Poppi, and then Poppi places his arm around the girl. Without any prompting, Poppi realizes that a kiss is the next step!
The film is a tour de force for Ronit Elkabetz in her role as Dina, the lonely woman who so willingly offers to help these formally-dressed strangers who are stranded in her town. She arranges accommodations and meals for everyone. It's so interesting that we can talk more easily to people when we think that we are never going to see them again! Thus, Dina, in her open and honest way, draws out the formalistic and old-fashioned band leader, Tewfik (played remarkably by Sasson Gabay). He begins to talk about his own personal life. As he struggles to articulate things that he has never spoken aloud before, he divulges the fact that his son was sensitive and different and he wasn't able to cope with it, and as a result, his son committed suicide. After he succeeds in admitting to this, we see that his relations with the young and spirited Khaled improve. During the course of the evening encounter, the characters in this small town and their Egyptian guests open up and tell about themselves and apparently everyone is better off as a result.
Why was a film about loneliness and alienation so well-received? Perhaps, in contemporary Israel, in which we have moved away from the collective, and begun to see ourselves as individuals with materialistic and personal needs, alienation and loneliness are subjects that we find compelling. Moreover, I would suggest that perhaps the simple, human encounter, as seen in this film, is the only hope for creating a true bridge of understanding between individuals, between Arabs and Jews.
Read Anat Zuria's article about this film in Eretz Acheret, a prominent Israeli journal.