Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Band's Visit

The Band's Visit (Eran Kolirin, 2007) [7]

What could have very easily been a one-joke premise film, The Band's Visit is injected with enough filmmaking skill and understanding of character to actually make it funny, endearing, and smart. It would have been all too easy to milk the overall premise of the film, an Egyptian Police band becoming stranded in the Israeli hinterlands, into a film with a lot of cheap fish-out-of-water jokes. Or it easily could have boiled down to simplified ideas about Arabs and Israelis. Instead, Kolirin goes beyond the surface and uses the stranding of the band to get deep into his characters. There isn't much political hand wringing and no greater social message Kolirin is trying to squeeze out of the situation and his characters. He tells the story of his characters regardless of who they are, and the film works because of it. What comes out of it is a story of loneliness, of two characters, the uptight band conductor (Sasson Gabai) and a Israeli restaurant owner (Ronit Elkabetz) who find camaraderie in their shared experiences. There are some peripheral story lines but none really capture the mood of the film and what it's trying to say more than the interaction of these two. It all comes across as not trying to say too much about larger issues but instead uses the personal story to create sympathetic characters. The film, shot in a static, deadpan way, helps accent the stark emptiness of the setting, which in turn emphasizes the traits of the two main characters. It all creates a film that works in not taking itself that serious but still saying something about its characters.

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