THE BAND’S VISIT/BIKUR HA-TIZMORET Directed by Eran Kolirin. Starring Ronit Elkabetz, Sasson Gabai, Uri Gavriel, Imad Jabarin, Ahuva Keren Club, IFI, Dublin, 87 min
ONE can imagine worse things than a Middle Eastern version of Local Hero. That is what Eran Kolirin has delivered here and, though the film is slight and a tad naive, it’s never less than charming. You’d have to be a cad of the highest order to dislike it.
The Band’s Visit follows an Egyptian police band as they make their way to Israel for a concert at a remote Arab cultural centre. Confused by the Hebrew place names, they take the wrong bus and wind up in a depressingly windswept settlement some distance from their desired destination. Happily, the owner of a local cafe – a sardonic woman approaching middle-age – takes pity on the men and arranges accommodation for the night.
Various quirky adventures ensue. One young blade is dragged to a bleak disco where he tutors his hosts in seduction techniques. Three of the musicians find themselves caught in the crossfire of a disintegrating marriage. Tewfic, the sober leader of the band, develops a touching – and entirely platonic – friendship with Dina, the lonely restaurateur. Some problems get solved. Others prove insurmountable.
The action takes place in a location that seems trapped in an earlier era. Mobile phones or computers are nowhere to be seen. The kids dance to an depressing aural stew composed of the offal ripped from 1970s disco. It seems unlikely that the Israeli tourist bureau will be sending Eran Kolirin gift baskets any time soon.
Though the satellite stories are amusing, the heart of the film remains the relationship between Tewfic and Dina. Sasson Gabai brings heart-breaking dignity to the conductor, while Ronit Elkabetz is endlessly engaging as his new pal. Refreshingly, while mulling over their respective ambitions and disappointments, they barely consider their cultural differences.
The film-makers’ implicit inclinations towards crosscommunity tolerance are never blurted out. That is as it should be.
At the hop in The Band’s Visit