The Band's Visit ***
Directed by Eran Kolirin
Written by Eran Kolirin
Saleh Bakri as Kahled
Ronit Elkabetz as Dina
Sasson Gabai as Tewfiq
Uri Gavriel as Avrum
Imad Jabarin as Camal
Rubi Moskovitz as Itzik
Khalifa Natour as Simon
87 Minutes(Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. )
I had a ticket to see "The Band's Visit" during the Toronto Film Festival, which I ended up switching for something else (I think it was "Under the Same Moon.") When I found out how good it was supposed to be, I regretted it. When I found out it was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, I was happy. When I found out it was to be released in February, when I will no longer reside in New York City, I was upset. But when I found out that it was to be shown for one week (December 7th-13th) for Oscar consideration her in the city, I was ecstatic. That's right, dear readers. I have failed you by seeing "The Band's Visit" on its final day here in the city before its February 8th release date. You'll just have to wait, suffice me saying that this is a wonderful movie. And its has a little bit of controversy-it cannot be up for a foreign language Oscar next year because there is too much English in it. But the use of English in the film is used for a purpose-as a way to stress the underlining message of unity and togetherness that really is needed. This is like a stab in the face for this film-being penalized for its moral.
The film begins with an Egyptian band being left on the side of the road in Israel where they are suppoed to be playing in a concert. Nobody is there to pick them up, and they soon learn that the Arab Culture Center they were supposed to be playing at is in another city (they mixed up their location). The eight member band manages to find solace in a kind restaurant owner, the beautiful and rather sassy Dina (played to perfection by Ronit Elkabetz, unknown to me but quite a looker. Here facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission.) She takes kindly to the general leader of the crew, the lonely and quiet Tewfiq (played perfectly by Sasson Gabai, also unknown to me. But he has that face, like Bill Murray or recently Frank Langella, who is able to be interesting even when he isn't doing anything at all.) Dina takes two people in her apartment for the night for the band to catch the morning bus, Tewfiq and Kahled, who has more on his mind than music. And we follow the eight band members for the night-with three of them staying at someone's house, one of them trying to phone the embassy, Kahled sightseeing and helping a friend get lucky in love, and finally Tewfig, whose evening out with Dina may be exactly what both of them need.
The film is predictable in the way that we know not to expect any plot twists or surprising revelations. There are secrets, and moments where the characters pasts are brought into play, but we can tell this just from when they are introduced-there is always more to a silent and somber band leader than meets the eye. However it really sucks you in with its immense charm. From the opening joke involving a band photo op to the final concert piece at the end, the movie evolves the characters slowly, building them up as the film moves along. It balances dry humor with some real heartfelt moments-and I won't exactly say that it ends on a happy note, but you will leave the theatre smiling. Every single performance here is on the money, from the main characters to the more extra band members. Elkabetz is a vision and Gabai is perfectly subdued here, a comparison to Saleh Bakri's loudmouthed Kahled, who really does bring in most of the films comedy (a scene in a skating rink is completely silent, but some of the biggest laughs all year.)
As for the problems with it getting Academy Award recognition-just more proof that the whole system is a joke. The mixture of Egyptian language, Israeli language, and English should be a statement for the movie and not against it. Shame on you, Academy! "The Band's Visit" is too good to be controlled by the silly award shows, which while they are fun are really rather meaningless. Look for "The Band's Visit" in February, a delightful, charming, and very witty film.