We should have these visits more often

Slice-of-life comedy/drama The Band’s Visit a low-key gem

When The Band’s Visit was submitted as Israel’s entry for best foreign language film in this year’s Academy Awards it was disqualified because more than 50 per cent of the dialogue in this charming multilingual film turned out to be in English. In this case I think that “almost” getting a nomination is a rarer and more idiosyncratic honour than simply being nominated. The whole situation suits the film to a T since The Band’s Visit is a seemingly trivial yet interesting tale of a simple miscommunication.

Eight men wearing sky-blue police uniforms and carrying musical instruments arrive in Israel to find there is nobody at the airport to greet them or drive them to their destination. They are the Alexandria Ceremonial Orchestra freshly arrived from Egypt and not the least bit at ease in their new surroundings. The band attempts to arrange their own transportation but their heavy accents lead to confusion between “Bet Hatikva” and “Petah Tikva” and they accidentally wind up in a tiny rural town miles away from the Arab Cultural Centre they are seeking. With bus service concluded for the day the men have no choice but to spend the night in the little hamlet. The band members are embarrassed by their plight but are determined to represent their homeland with decorum and interact with the locals with almost comical politeness and formality. The villagers don’t know quite what to make of their visitors but putting up a squadron of uptight Egyptians for the night is deemed a refreshing enough change of pace that the hosts are willing to offer up some food a guest bedroom and a few cots. Some of the band members play their instruments for their benefactors or simply listen to family squabbles with silent discomfort. Others go out on the town to experience Bet Hatikva’s less-than-lively nightlife. Nothing much happens but the characters are fleshed out and real and watching them interact is fascinating.

Everything about this film is low-key and unassuming including the tagline: “Once not long ago a small Egyptian police band arrived in Israel. Not many remember this…. It wasn’t that important.” Clearly this is not a film for viewers who need exploding helicopters every half-hour but if you’ve ever found yourself charmed by a slice-of-life comedy-drama like Local Hero (1983) then you’ll find The Band’s Visit delightful.