Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bikur HaTizmoret [The Band's Visit]

Eran Kolirin's first feature film as director and screenwriter is a sweet, funny melody from start to finish, a film about roads taken and not taken, opportunities lost and found. From the first frames of The Band's Visit, in which a driver clangs open the back doors of a white minivan and fishes out an absurd yellow beach ball, it was clear that we were in for 87 minutes of visually delicious film. After a few more minutes wandering the caverns of the new Ben Gurion International Airport with the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra I was laughing and groaning and terribly attached to the members of the band.

A confusion between "Petach Tikva" and "Beit HaTikva" strands our Egyptian heroes in a tiny hamlet somewhere in the Israeli desert, stuck to cope until the next day, when the next bus will drive by. They are lost, and so are their Israeli hosts, caught between generations of viewing uniformed Egyptians as the enemy and normal human pity for the lost and clearly harmless musicians.

Gradually, over the 24 hours, the band and their hosts get to know one another a bit, exchanging the sort of confidences one tells a person who will be gone tomorrow and never return. Some of these confidences are sad, and some are achingly funny -- I will not ruin any of them by saying too much. This very light little film works perfectly on several levels at once, as a human comedy, as political commentary with a feather touch, and as an exploration of regret and redemption.

The film has won 24 major awards, all deserved, including "Un Certain Regard - Jury Coup de Coeur" at Cannes for Eran Kolirin, a European Film Award for Best Actor for Sasson Gabai, and a sweep of 8 awards out of 13 nominations for Israeli Film Awards (the Israeli equivalent of an Oscar) including Best Actor for Sasson Gabai, Best Actress for Ronit Elkabetz (who is mesmerizing), Best Supporting Actor for Saleh Bakri, as well as Best Film, Best Director, Best Music, Best Costumes, and Best Screenplay. All this, and it is not among the Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Film, because too much of the dialogue is in English!

By the way, if I could give an award for Best Subtitles, I would give it to Bikur HaTizmoret. The English translation of the Hebrew dialogue is spot-on and manages to preserve the humor, no small accomplishment. It is not showing on many screens, but it is a gem -- if you have the chance, see it!

Thumbs UP!


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