Saturday, September 06, 2008

[Israel Film Festival] The Band's Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret)

Band of Musical Cops

The introductory inter-titles alluded this story as if it was a true, and that not many would remember it because it wasn't that important. I'd like to consider that The Band's Visit is however important to highlight and remind ourselves of simple human decency to help a fellow man in need. With little money, no understanding of the local language, and absolutely clueless as to the current location, I think not everyone can turn a blind eye, and not offer any assistance at all.

In The Band's Visit, the 8-member team from Egypt's Alexandria Police Ceremonial Band arrive in Israel to perform at the opening ceremony of a new Arab Cultural Center, only to find themselves stranded at the wrong town, a quiet one in fact, without support from the organizers or the embassy to get them back on track. "Gneral" Taqfiq (Sasson Gabai) and his men however get unexpected support from restaurant owner Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), an attractive middle aged lady who extends her hospitality to include an overnight stay at her restaurant, her home and her friends' homes, and a warm meal to boot.

So begins an uneasy alliance forged between the two cultures, one resigned to the fact that absolutely nothing happens in their town where this anomaly of an opportunity to become a Good Samaritan seemed bemusing, and somewhat an emotional / relationship wreck herself, sees a chance of a faintly probably getting together with a uniformed man. The other whose life is led by strict rules and regulation, responsible for the conduct of his men, reminding them to be ambassadors of their country, but as the story goes by, we see the man behind the uniform get revealed.

Don't expect big moments or slapstick comedy though, as this film is not. Most of the events that were remotely laughable, stemmed from the little episodes of a reaching out between humans, sans rivalry, loyalty and culture. While the movie doesn't showcase every individual in the 8 member team, significant time got devoted to Haled (Saleh Bakri), the default renegade character every group has, in his assistance to his host's plight of not being able to communicate with the girl that the latter likes, and Simon (Khalifa Natour), the second-in-command who is more of a conformer, being left questioned on his incomplete overture, whether he has the courage to pursue his dreams.

Writer-director Eran Kolirin's story takes place in a succinct 24 hours, split into three story arcs of first - Dina and Tawfiq in the revelation of each other's past while maintaining a hint of possible romance in the air, of second chances, second - Haled and his exploration of the town, with the unforgettable roller skate disco scene, and Simon which epitomizes uneasiness, which I feel most of us could identify with, being in disquieting comfort of a stranger's home, and having to deal with personal questions, not because the hosts were rude, but in attempts to try and break the ice by probing common topics to talk about.

Each of these stories had their respective touching moments, brought out vividly by the cast members, over a background soundtrack of excellently chosen tunes, from pop to classical music which we get treated to at the end. While the narrative may have unfolded within the short span of time in an overnight stay, parting was indeed sweet sorrow, and what came through was certainly something more memorable that will dwell with you, on the basic human decency of not judging a book by its cover, and that putting aside all differences and general presumptions, every individual has their own stories to tell, with challenges faced that could be no different from anyone else.

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