The Band's Visit
reviewed by Andrew James
The Band's Visit opens with a group of Egyptian, military band members standing in the middle of nowhere (a small town in Israel), waiting for a bus that will never show up. All wearing the same, powder-blue uniforms, the group stands out like a sore thumb and Israeli hospitality is lacking to say the least. Becoming more and more lost, eventually the group find themselves at a small cafe run by a strong, independent woman who offers food and a place to sleep. She splits the men up to three different locations around the town; taking two herself, three at a friend's small flat and the other two on the cafe floor. From here, the band members appear embarrassingly greatful and accept quiet conversation, a night out on the town or a quiet evening at home singing songs or playing their instruments. There really isn't much more plot than that. The story finds its path with conversation and layers of humanity peeled away slowly but surely.
The movie definitely has some slow pacing and could get a bit tedious for some as the quirk and charm wears off and the character development starts to reveal itself. Fortunately for me, this is when the audience started to quiet down and I began to really enjoy the picture and find that these characters actually mean more to me than just a series of cute moments.
The movie itself relies heavily on framing and individual scenes. Lots of shots of the seven band mates standing in a perfect line with their instruments at their feet. No matter how many times this is shown, I think it elicits a smile from everyone. There are also several moments where the director just steps back from the action as if to say to the audience, "hey, let's just look at this for a second." One scene in particular is about a seven minute shot of three of the younger characters at a roller rink in which a more experienced young man is showing another how to woo and comfort a young lady. It looks nice and above all, feels nice, in a relatable and touching way.
The standout of the film though is easily with the two leads who have very memorable parts and likely the most touching bit of story line. Dina and Tawfiq (the cafe owner and the band's conductor) are the two who seem most unlikely to end up together, yet ulitmately seem to have the most in common and that revelation is slowly revealed to us throughout the course of the evening as they head out on a somewhat unconventional date. Their discussion and interaction is both awkward but touching - with a hint of sadness and lonliness. Both leads remind me of two other foreign actors to make themselves quite big stars in recent years: Monica Bellucci and Armin Mueller-Stahl. I hope to see both these actors from The Band's Visit in more upcoming roles that are more geared towards western audiences, as I think they could have bright futures.
One of the things that had a lot of people in the critical side of the industry upset is that The Band's Visit was not eligible for best foreign film at the Oscars because it had too much English. A complaint I agreed with before seeing the film. Now that I've seen it, I completely understand why it was not allowed. Though the entire film is subtitled, 95% of it is actually in English. It's a broken, highly accented form of English, but English nonetheless. The subtitles are only there as a crutch for some of the poorer pronounciations and articulation. For the most part, this is not a foreign language film.
Along with some delightful music (with a lovely description of music at one point) and a very "nice" looking direction style, The Band's Visit is quite the enjoyable film once it strays from trying too hard to be quirky and cute and goes for the gold with human relations and character development in a different and difficult setting. Given the chance, I would likely sit down with this movie again on my own so that I could ponder the meanings and feelings of the characters a bit better without an annoying audience howling in my ear. I'm not saying the film isn't humorous in places; it just isn't the knee-slapper that my particular audience found it to be. But it is quite the enjoyable motion picture and inadvertantly explains to us again why the art of the independent film maker is most often much stronger than those with the big budgets and studio
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