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Amr Diab: Aktar Wahed Beyhebak

This beautifully composed, delightfully understated Israeli film is at Elsewhere not because it is about music -- an Egyptian police band adrift in an unattractive town in Israel -- but because it is about silence.

There is an ineffable sadness behind the thin veneer of wry humour and the astute observation of characters and gestures, and that is conveyed not through words but passages of eloquent silence which hang heavy with meaning.

While there is some strange chemistry between two of the characters -- Sasson Gabai as the band's leader, Ronit Elkabetz as an Israeli shop owner who accommodates them -- it is the lack of connections made in The Band's Visit which elevates it above being a minor comedy. It is a breath away from being tragic in fact.

The barely stated subtext about relations between Egypt and Israel sits quietly behind the story, as does the soulless and arid town in which the small drama is played out. As Elkabetz's character Dina notes, this is a town without culture, and the artfully lit, generously spaced images of empty roads, the neon-soaked diner, concrete park and more reenforce the emotional and social barrenness.

The plot is remarkably simple -- a police band from Alexandria ends up in the wrong town and is obliged to stay the night -- but it is the cast of characters who slowly reveal themselves, and the relationships between them, which is at the heart here.

The unfinished concerto that one band member plays is listened to in silence by two Israeli men and you are uncertain whether they feel its sadness or just sympathy for the character who has abandoned it.

The Band's Visit probably bears little relation to how matters might be between ordinary people in Israel and Egypt, but their common ground is the deep well of disappointment which seems to inhabit everyone here.

Yet for all the slow melancholy this is not a sad film. Every character also has strength and you sense that the lack of hope and promise perhaps stems from the dreams deferred and denied but not abandoned altogether. Better to have dreamed than not.

A multiple award winner at many film festivals, The Band's Visit -- a debut feature by television director Kolirin -- will linger long after the final, moving, lyrical and unexpected song has faded. 


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Tom - Apr 4, 2009

Dad's Army was my first impression - that same delicate interplay between personalities thrown together by an arbitrary circumstance rather than by design - but then it deepens into something so much more, in a way that film (and only film) can.

Beautiful and so achingly human that even in its blackest moments when it's almost unbearably sad it is so genuine that it remains affirming rather than depressing. It's actually a very funny film in sum, but quietly, gently, in a way that hollywood has trained us to almost believe we're too thick to get.

Thanks Graham - do more film reviews!

Angela - Apr 28, 2009

Thanks Graham; I had read good reviews before but nice to be reminded once the dvd is out and we only have to stroll over the road to get it.
Loved the movie- some actors there who just shine out loud on the screen - and great to see some unpretentious characters bringing out a gentle, real and mutually supportive event.

Martin - May 25, 2009

That's handy, my other favourite movie of 08 is The Bands Visit, a warm, clever and very funny movie.

A slowly unfolding series of interactions between a solemn band of eccentric visiting musicians and a gregarious local woman who puts the wastrels up for the night. The granite faced Band Leader is frustrated throughout by an overconfident younger colleague but he softens to the attentions of the ebullient hostess and he reluctantly joins her for some local night life. What follows is pure pleasure at no pace at all which makes it even more different. Awkwardness, doesn't hamper proceedings it just adds more layers and the deadpan is often just short of excruciating but the faces and textures of a superbly shot film make a confection of real characters. I shed a tear in a poignant moment of which there are many. So with an unsettling undertone of sadness that permeates all present we trail the possibilities of one night in a town deemed to be nowhere at all. The silence and space given for even a slight shuffle of feet,or a perplexed face unable to locate a solution to their predicament creates a sort of quiet despair and noboby in the cast is comfortable. As they assemble gormlessley at movie's end you have to laugh as only part of the troupe wave back to their still optimistic hostess.

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