THE BAND'S VISIT
The eight men wear sky-blue uniforms with gold
braid on the shoulders. They look like extras in an opera. They
dismount from a bus in the middle of nowhere and stand uncertainly
on the sidewalk. They are near a highway interchange, leading
no doubt to where they’d
rather be. Across the street is a small cafe. Regarding them are
two bored layabouts and a sadly, darkly beautiful woman.
They are a band from Egypt, the Alexandria
Ceremonial Police Orchestra. Their leader, a severe man with
a perpetually dour expression, crosses the street and asks the
woman for directions to the Arab Cultural Center. She looks at
him as if he stepped off a flying saucer. “Here there is no Arab culture,” she says. “Also,
no Israeli culture. Here there is no culture at all.”
They are in the middle of the Israeli desert,
having taken the wrong bus to the wrong destination. Another
bus will not come until tomorrow. “The Band’s Visit” begins
with this premise, which could supply the makings of a comedy,
and turns into a quiet, sympathetic film about the loneliness
that surrounds us. Oh, and there is some comedy, after all.”
The town they have arrived at is lacking in interest
even for those who live there. It is seemingly without activity.
The bandleader, named Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai), asks if there is a
hotel. The woman, Dina (Ronit
Elkabetz), is amused. No hotel.
They communicate in careful, correct English; she more fluent,
he weighing every word. Tewfiq explains their dilemma.
They are to play a concert tomorrow at the opening of a new Arab
cultural center in a place has that almost, but not quite, the
same name as the place they are in.
Tewfiq starts out to lead a march down the
highway in the correct direction. There is some dissent, especially
from the tall young troublemaker Haled (Saleh Bakri). He complains
that they have not eaten. After some awkward negotiations (they
have little Israeli currency), the Egyptians are served soup
and bread in Dina’s
cafe. It is strange, how the static, barren, lifeless nature of
the town seeps into the picture, even though the writer-director
Eran Kolirin uses no establishing shots or any effort at all to
show us anything beyond the cafe — and later, Dina’s
apartment and an almost empty restaurant.
Dina offers to put up Tewfiq and Haled
at her apartment, and tells the young layabouts (who seem permanently
anchored to their chairs outside her cafe) that they must take
the others home to their families. And then begins a long, quiet
night of guarded revelations, shared isolation and tentative tenderness.
Dina is tough but not invulnerable. Life has given her little that
she hoped for. Tewfiq is a man with an invisible psychic weight
on his shoulders. Haled, under everything, is an awkward kid. They
go for a snack at the restaurant, its barren tables reaching away
under bright lights, and Dina points out a man who comes in with
his family. A sometime lover of hers, she tells Tewfiq. Even adultery
seems weary here.
When the three end up back at Dina’s
apartment, where she offers them wine, the evening settles down
into resignation. It is clear that Dina feels tender toward Tewfiq,
that she can see through his timid reserve to the good soul inside.
But there is no movement. Later, when he makes a personal revelation,
it is essentially an apology. The movie avoids what we might
expect, a meeting of the minds, and gives us instead a sharing
of quiet desperation.
As Dina and Twefiq, Ronit
Elkabetz and Sasson Gabai bring great fondness and amusement
to their characters. She is pushing middle age, he is being pushed
by it. It is impossible for this night to lead to anything in
their future lives. But it could lead to a night to remember.
Gabai plays the bandleader as so repressed
or shy or wounded that he seems closed inside himself. As we
watch Elkabetz putting on a new dress for the evening and inspecting
herself in the mirror, we see not vanity but hope. Throughout
the evening, we note her assertion, her confidence, her easily
assumed air of independence. Yet when she gazes into the man’s
eyes, she sighs with regret and mentions that as a girl she loved
Sharif movies that played daily on Israeli TV, but play no
There are some amusing interludes. A band member plays the first
few notes of a sonata he has not finished (after years). A bandmate
calls him Schubert. A local man keeps solitary vigil by a pay phone,
waiting for a call from the girl he loves. He has an insistent
way of showing his impatience when another uses the phone.
In the morning, the band reassembles and leaves. “The
Visit” has not provided any of the narrative payoffs we might
have expected, but has provided something more valuable: An interlude
involving two “enemies,” Arabs and Israelis, that shows
them both as only ordinary people with ordinary hopes, lives and
disappointments. It has also shown us two souls with rare beauty.
Cast & Credits
Tewfiq: Sasson Gabai
Dina: Ronit Elkabetz
Haled: Saleh Bakri
Simon: Khalifa Natour
Camal: Mad Jabarin
Sony Pictures Classics presents a film written and directed by
Eran Kolirin. In Arabic, English and Hebrew, with English subtitles.
Running time: 89 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for brief strong language).