The Band’s Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret) (Director: Eran Kolirin): This first feature from the young Israeli director is a charming confection that, as the director admits, has no basis in reality. In some unspecified recent past, the members of an Egyptian police band arrive at an airport in Israel and, seeing nobody there to meet them, decide to proceed on their own. Only they mistake one town for another, and end up stranded in a lonely desert settlement. Dina, the earthy owner of the local café, comes to their rescue, finding them lodging for the night and taking a special shine to Tewfiq, the distinguished elder statesman who is the band’s leader. Most of the humour comes from the contrast between the uniformed and very polite band members and the bored and eccentric Israelis who aren’t quite sure how to react to their presence. On one hand, these are Israel’s enemies and should be treated cautiously, but then again, not much happens in their town and so this might be interesting.
The curiosity of both groups overcomes any hesitancy and soon three pairings have formed. Dina takes Tewfiq out for a meal and a drink, and Dina’s sensuality briefly thaws out the older man. Young Khaled, the playboy of the band, goes out on the town with awkward virgin Papi, helping him overcome his shyness with a girl at a roller disco. And soulful composer Simon stays with troubled Itzik, whose marriage appears to be in serious trouble. It’s mostly played for laughs, but there are several touching moments of connection between the characters. For me, the performance of Sasson Gabai as Tewfiq was masterful. Looking uncannily like Ben Kingsley, he brings dignity, sadness, and longing to the role. The other characters are a little too broad most of the time, and the number of sight gags that involve the band lining up in their uniforms becomes a bit repetitive, but for a first feature, Kolirin has done a wonderful job of making a small moment in time and space feel very special.
At the end of the film, when we finally hear the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Band play their beautiful music, we see that despite their uniforms and impeccable manners, these are passionate men who are seeking love, or mourning its loss.
Here is the Q&A with director Eran Kolirin from after the screening: