Speaking of mediocre
THE BAND’S VISIT — Eran Kolirin, Israel, 2007, 4
Why on Earth is a sometimes entertaining, but by-the-numbers bit of Cultural Contact Melts The Hearts Of Enemies twaddle scoring a 97 percent at Rotten Tomatoes? Is it just the subject matter — don’t answer that one.
THE BAND’S VISIT starts off well, opening with comic gags that remind me a bit of Elia Suleiman’s DIVINE INTERVENTION, with the deadpan wit (“this event was not that important”), comically misleading framing, stiff formality of movement and the way the Egyptian band is repeatedly lined up in formation like toy soldiers. I was thinking this might be a real clash movie about the elaborate formality of an honor-based culture amid the informal bluntness of Israeli society. I’ve talked to more than one Israeli scholar who’s told me that this gap in communication style has often harmed Arab-Israeli talks quite apart from the gap on the underlying issues. There is some of that for a while, particularly in the first meetings between the band and the bored Israeli villagers — “would you be so kind, in light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves / how can I help you.”
But I began to suspect THE BAND’S VISIT would run dry on inspiration when the Egyptian band winds up in the middle of nowhere based on a mispronunciation. They were supposed to go to Petah Tikva, but improvised bus tickets to Bet Hatikvah … ho ho ho. Once you realize what the film’s architecture is (the Egyptians are stranded, they will get to know the Israelis, and vice versa, and hearts will be melted) absolutely everything that follows was completely predictable, including critical praise like “the bridge-making capacities of hospitality and the way music serves as universal language that draws people together … the cause of peace is nurtured in such soulful moments” (come off it, I want to say).
Sure enough, the little lessons come — they find their common humanity by singing “Summertime” and discovering a common interest in Chet Baker (quelle coincidence for me), wordlessly showing how to hit on a chick (actually a pretty funny scene), reminiscing about Omar Sharif (“my life is an Arab movie”), and looking at artifacts of broken families (“we are all alike”) etc. About the only narrative question I really had while sitting through the last hour was whether the liberated Jewish woman (the terrific Ronit Elkabetz) would bed the grieving widower (Sasson Gabai, very strong) or the ladies man (Saleh Bakri).
Like DEFINITELY MAYBE’s succeeding at not being terrible, THE BAND’S VISIT is probably a better film than MEDITERRANEO or THE WAR, but that’s the best you can say about it.
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