A Band of Honor By Steve Ayorinde

in 60th Cannes Film Festival

by Steve Ayorinde

Charming and absorbingly humorous are words which best describe The Band’s Visit (Bikur Hatizmoret), the directorial feature debut of Israeli filmmaker, Eran Kolirin, who also wrote the screenplay of this beautiful story.

A small Egyptian police band on a kind of cultural exchange performance arrives in Israel with little or no clue about their engagement and host. In a strange and historically hostile country, the band members finally confront fate, first by trial and error and eventually by seeking and accepting the hospitality of a local restaurant worker in a small Israeli town.

No one would, perhaps, expect the Israelis would put out the red carpet for an Egyptian police band, yet the humor that comes out of the extreme oddity of a band of strangers in the middle of nowhere and the eventual, intense human relations that ensue between the generous hostess, Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), along with her cohorts and the musicians are the hallmark of this witty but terrifically entertaining comedy about the relationship between the two countries.

An almost unanimous critical appraisal, enthusiastic ovation that lasted several minutes after its premiere and FIPRESCI’s Prize for the best film in the Un Certain Regard competition at the 60 th edition of the Cannes Film festival are sure pass marks for a film with little budget and sparse set, which nonetheless is generous with its outpouring of wit and emotions.

This film is an example of what a filmmaker is able to achieve with practically nothing. And in both script and direction, The Band’s Visit strives to convey nothing other than the challenges that might be inherent in the relationship between two sets of people who might be mutually suspicious of each other.

Decking the band in powder-blue shows the director’s understanding of musical-comedy style uniform, but it is in juxtaposing the band’s desperation with their individual nuances that Kolirin succeeds in establishing himself as a filmmaker who is conscious about the characters he is creating.

With humor and insight, he gives the viewer a clear picture of a caution and restraint through the graceful and superbly delivered acting of Sasson Gabai as the leader of the band, as well as through the free-spirited but measured effervescent role given by Saleh Bakri. However, the larger theme of human relations that is nevertheless apolitical comes to the fore in the robustly spare engagement with the restaurant. If it had seemed as if the film lacked any serious weight, the progression of well-composed scenes, with a touch of musicality and road show ambience gives this film the strength it needs to carry it through from the moment the band members return to ask Dina for a little assistance towards feeding.

Elkabetz’s remarkable presence throughout gives a touch of great acting to the film, and this is hugely boosted by technical contributions, especially from the eloquent and hilarious photography, well laced by the glorious musical score of Habib Shehaden Hanna.

In the end, when the band leader raises his hand – a kind of ‘signature tune’ that runs throughout the film – to conduct a sublime performance by the band, it is a lesson in hospitality and humanity that this dry comedy has tellingly dished out without pretence.