In an ocean of predictable movies, “The Band’s Visit” is an island of bliss.
When you see the advertising about the story of an Egyptian police band getting lost in Israel, you’re likely to roll the film instantly in your mind — conflict, hatred, perhaps some awkward humor, and a forced bit or two of vague optimism about the future.
Forget all that, it’s some other movie. This one is free and clear of anything set, routine, obvious or predictable.
“The Band’s Visit” is about people — mostly awkward, all real, well and ill-behaved in turn — and not about agenda, ideology, or politics. It’s an unsentimental “people movie” (remember when Hollywood used to churn those out?), enormously likable, a treasure house of humanism.
“Visit” is also a film you have to work with. Writer and (first-time) director Eran Kolirin offers slow action, halting dialogue and rampant silences. And yet it all works so well: even if you have never heard Egyptian music, when the band finally plays (as the end-credits roll), you’re guaranteed to groove on it.
Kolirin is a writer and director of great economy. The characters and relationships between the eight band members — in their powder blue, Sgt. Pepper-wannabe uniforms — are revealed through a word here, an expression there, and pretty soon, you really know them … except that later you realize you didn’t.
The head of the band, Tewfig, is an officious, prissy, downcast, silent figure, and yet as the camera stays on him a great deal of the time, slowly you get used to him, and when he finally puts together acouple of full sentences, you may feel acceptance and even appreciation.
It is at this point, far into the movie, that you understand why Dina is pursuing him. Dina is the attractive — if blowsy — owner of a small cafe in the Israeli desert town where the band is stranded.
There is much, much more to “Visit,” but just watching the Tewfig-Dina story, and reveling in the performances of the two actors, is well worth the price of admission.
The band leader is Sasson Gabai, and I must admit being incredulous finding out after seeing the movie that he is a famous Israeli actor. Not only does he appear authentically Egyptian, but when starts singing an Arabic song — oy!
Dina is Ronit Elkabetz, an actor so fine that you’d never suspect her of being one; what you see on the screen is the character, totally believable.
“Visit” is a rare film, one that keeps running in your mind long after the band strikes up.
The Band’s Visit (three stars)
Starring Ronit Elkabetz, Sasson Gabai, Saleh Bakri
Written and directed by Eran Kolirin
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes