Oud Man Out: The Band’s Visit

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Still playing in Chicago, and maybe at your local indieplex, The Band’s Visit is a sad but funny but sad but funny (I’m not sure which word to end on) film about the distance between people. The pretext for all this funnysadness is a story about an eight-piece Egyptian police band sent to play in Israel in some sort of cultural exchange program, who then spend the night in a tiny Israeli desert town when they board the wrong bus. (They want the town of Petah Tikva; instead they end up in Bet Hatikva.) Would you be surprised to learn that mutual suspicion between two nationalities gives way to tacit acceptance and the beginnings of genuine friendship?—no, you wouldn’t—but the charm of the film is to make this actually believable. It’s also to make us understand not just the chasm that exists between two countries, but the chasm that exists between any two human beings on the face of the earth, even when they sleep in the same bed. Especially when they sleep in the same bed. We are all wandering in the desert.

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This isn’t a feel-good, “why can’t we all just get along” film, although that might be what you expect. It’s occasionally a feel-bad, “you can’t get along with anybody when you can’t live with yourself, and no one can” film. But it’s not depressing. Along with delivering moments that make you, yes, LOL, it touches deeply, gets the emotions flowing. Flow is life. And life, no matter how sad, is the antidote to depression.

Directed and written by Eran Kolirin, this Israeli film features good performances from its cast, notably Sasson Gabai as the bandleader Tawfiq; and, as Dina, the restaurant owner who opens the town’s hospitality to the band for the night, Ronit Elkabetz.

The film might have been a contender this year for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar—it was Israel’s submission—but it was rejected because most of it is in English. The Egyptians in the band don’t know Hebrew and the Israelis in the town don’t know Arabic, but they both know some English. The trick, as always, is not in finding a common language; it’s in discovering what you have to say.

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Added 3/29: Ironically, in view of the film’s look at communication and its difficulties, The Band’s Visit has been shut out of Middle East film festivals in Cairo and Abu Dhabi. Indiewire has the details.

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