starring Shlomi Avraham, Saleh Bakri, Ronit Elkabetz, Sasson Gabai
written and directed by Eran Kolirin
by Walter Chaw I've been reading a lot of Thomas Friedman lately, mostly because I have glaring, embarrassing gaps in my education and popular, contemporary scholarship about our Middle East imbroglio is chief among them. I've read a good bit on The Crusades and on the wars we've waged during the two Bush administrations; what I haven't read is any extensive insight into the psyche of the Arab Street. Where better to start than through the erudition of a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner? I approached Eran Kolirin's The Band's Visit in a different way, I realize, than I would have prior to my dip into Friedman's headspace--and was gratified, as I seldom have been, by how a juncture in my interests resulted in what could only be a richer film experience. The Band's Visit is already remarkable for its sensitivity and patience, but knowing a little of the tragic intractability of Israeli/Arab relations lends it an implacable weight of sorrow. I'm convinced that there's already a latent melancholy in the picture, but armed with just a gloss of Camp David, the Israeli/Egyptian conflict, suddenly all of the picture's travails--being shut out of the Cairo film festival and, at the last minute, the Abu Dhabi fest as well--take on this terrible weight of irony and hopelessness. Without showing anybody coming over to "the other side," as it were, The Band's Visit is about communication, understanding, and acceptance, its characters united in their difference in the quest for the indefinable sublime. It's the best kind of political film in that it's a work, without pretension, of essential humanity--and the best kind of sentimental film in that it earns its sentiment.