Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Band's Visit

Written and directed by Eran Kolirin, Bikur Ha-Tizmoret (The Band’s Visit) is the story of an Egyptian orchestral band who arrive in the middle of Israel in the wrong town. During their brief stay in the town, the eight band members deal with various differences and challenges as they’re trying to reach to the gig they’re set to play. Starring Saleh Bakri, Ronit Elkabetz, and Sasson Gabai. Bikur Ha-Tizmoret is a wonderful yet light-hearted drama from Eran Kolirin.

The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra led by Lt. Col. Tawfiq Zacharya (Sasson Gabai) has just arrived in an Israeli airport as they’re waiting for a bus to take them to Petah Tiqva for a concert they’re set to play. When the young Khaled (Saleh Bakri) asks for a bus, the bus arrives but lands them in the wrong town due to a confusion of dialect. Walking into this town in the middle of nowhere, the band walks to a restaurant led by a woman named Dina (Ronit Elkabetz) who reveals that there’s no bus coming until tomorrow. Stranded and with little Israeli money, Dina takes the band in to dine as she lets Zacharya and Khaled stay at her place while the rest of the band stays in a couple of other apartments.

Zacharya’s second-in-command Simon (Khalifa Natour) and a couple of members stay at the home of Itzik (Rubi Moskovitz) whose sister (Hilla Sarjon) is having a birthday where they witness a bit of family drama. Dina asks Zacharya to go out on a night with her as they eat at a place and talk a bit about their lives while Khaled decides to go out on his own where he meets Papi (Shlomi Avraham). Papi is going on a blind date with a friend as they meet a couple of girls as Khaled joins them at a skating rink where he helps Papi on how to charm girls. The night wears on as one of its members (Imad Jabarin) finally makes contact with an embassy for a bus to pick up in the morning as it would become a strange though fruitful night for the people involved.

The film is about an Egyptian band who arrive in a small town by a mistake as they end up bringing a bit of life to this very small, remote town. During the course of the film, a few band members go through some changes while the people they meet would have something that would change the monotony of their own lives. What happens is that the idea that these eight Egyptian men landing on a remote Israeli town would probably cause trouble and tension. Instead, Eran Kolirin would strip down those stereotypes and ethnicities and make these different group interact as they talk about life and music.

Characters such as Zacharya, Khaled, Simon, Dina, Itzik, and Papi would have some moments of development as things would change about them. Zacharya starts off as a man that is devoted to order and to get things underway until his time with Dina, a lonely restaurant owner, wants to go out with him for a night as he drops his disciplined persona where he’s a man still haunted by his own actions. For Dina, it’s a chance to have a night with a man that isn’t going to take advantage of her nor wants very much as she finds someone who is more of a gentleman rather than some guy to sleep with. Simon is a man that ponders about a concerto he wants to finish as meeting the young Itzik would give him an idea about his role as a musician. For the young Khaled, he is the charming insubordinate who ends up helping this young man on how to flirt with a girl in this lovely yet very intimate scene at a roller-skating rink.

The roller-skating rink scene in terms of presentation is among one of the key highlights of the film because of how simple and natural it feels through Kolirin’s direction. Kolirin’s approach to the entire film from a directing standpoint is to keep things simple from the way he composes the images with a very still shot with not a lot of movements. It’s all about maintaining an intimacy and presentation that is filled with wide shots and some striking compositions which leads to a climatic moment for a band performance at the end. Overall, Kolirin creates a mesmerizing and captivating film that is touching but also entertaining.

Cinematographer Shai Goldman does an excellent job with the photography in bringing a wonderful look to the sunny location of the town while the nighttime scenes are truly gorgeous for its lights and wide shots. Editor Arik Leibovitch does a very good job with the editing as he presents in a mostly straightforward manner with a few rhythmic cuts and smooth transitions to help the film move leisurely. Production designer Eitan Levi does a nice job in creating the look for the restaurant that Dina owns while the roller-skating rink is a highlight for its small though spacious feel.

Costume designer Doron Ashkenazi does a great job with the costumes from the blue uniforms the men wear to the red dress that Dina wears at night. Sound mixer Israel David does a superb job with the sound from capturing the sparse excitement of the skating rink as well as other small moments in the apartments and restaurant scenes. The music score by Habib Shadah is brilliant for its somber yet light orchestral score with low arrangements to complement the loneliness that some of the characters feel. The rest of the soundtrack is a mix of dance-driven songs, Israeli pop tunes, and traditional Arabian music that is truly a highlight of the film.

The casting by Orit Azoulay is amazing with the ensemble that is created with appearances from Uri Gavriel as Itzik’s father, Hilla Sarjon as Itzik’s sister, and Imad Jabarin as a band member who makes a call to the embassy. Shlomi Avraham is very good as the shy Papi as is Rubi Moskovitz as the more warm and open Itzik. Khalifa Natour is excellent as Simon, a longtime second-in-command who is pondering about his own family and the idea of completing a concerto. Saleh Bakri is great as the young yet charming Khaled who helps a guy how to win over a girl while professing his love for Chet Baker. Ronit Elkabetz is superb as Dina, a restaurant owner who takes the band while bonding with Zacharya over their loneliness. Finally, there’s Sasson Gabai in an outstanding performance as Lt. Col. Tawfiq Zacharya who tries to keep things in order while dealing with his own personal issues as he finds great company in Dina.

Bikur Ha-Tizmoret is an extraordinary film from Eran Kolirin that features a terrific cast and a simple yet engaging premise. Audiences who enjoy Israeli-Arab films that has provides a simple message of unity without being too preachy. Notably as it breaks down stereotypes over the troubled relation between Arabs and Israelis by presenting them as just people. In the end, Bikur Ha-Tizmoret is an enjoyable yet heartwarming gem from Eran Kolirin and company.

© thevoid99 2011

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