The Band’s Visitby Zoe Henry / 26.04.2009
Sometimes the best social commentary involves normal people, doing normal things in messed up situations. Such is the case with A Band’s Visit.
The premise breathes comedy from the start, the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra made up of policemen varying in ages and attitudes from Egypt arrive in Israel to perform at the inaugural ceremony of an Arab Art’s Centre. On arrival, however, they find that there is no delegation to meet them. Lieutenant-colonel Tawfiq Zacharya is the conductor, and therefore the leader of the group. He tries calling the people who you’re supposed to call when you find yourself in such a predicament, but is met only with rudeness and incompetence. They need to get to Petah Tiqva to do their performance, so they ask around where they can catch a bus to their destination. With the Egyptians asking in their broken English, the Israelis answering in equally broken English, confusion is inevitable.
They board a bus to what they think is Petah Tiqva, but is actually Beit Hatikva – the Israeli equivalent of a dorpie. The minute they reach the town it is clear something is wrong. They find a restaurant, completely deserted save for the owner, Dina, and a couple of unemployed townspeople who have nothing better to do than hang around. She explains that they are in the wrong town, but as there is only one bus in and out of town, so they have to set up camp for the night. Dina offers to take a couple of them in, and divides the rest of the orchestra between the two unemployed townspeople. The evening progresses and the orchestra and the locals build up one of those temporary but meaningful relationships that you have when people slide in and out of your life. There are many funny and charming moments, and some emotional lump in the throat moments, all of them endearing you to each of the characters. The performances are all subtle and underplayed with maximum effect, and by the end of the film they feel like people in your life as opposed to characters in a film. The Band’s Visit shows that people are just people.
Sometimes millennia-long feuds that have been taken for granted can be dimmed to allow the true warmth of humanity to shine through. A real little gem that’s not trying to be anything more. And in so doing makes some of the strongest statements about humanity on both sides of the Israeli/Arab conflict.