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07 April 2012

Bikur Ha-Tizmoret (2007)

Directed by: Erin Kolirin
Starring: Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, 
Khalifa Netour, Shlomi Avraham, Rubi Moscovich
The Alexandria Ceremonial Police orchestra arrive in Israel to play at the opening of the Arab Cultural Center.
Dressed in full regalia and observing all military police protocol, the conductor of the orchestra, Tewfiq Zacharayah (Sasson Gabai) is determined that the political nature of their assignment, an Arab military police band playing classical music in Israel,  should not be fouled up so as to give anyone an excuse to disband the orchestra,  already teetering under budget cuts and reorganisations.
The band arrives at Tel Aviv airport to find that there is no one to receive them. While Tewfiq tries to ring the consulate, his pedantic penchant for reciting his full name gets him nowhere - the harried receptionist at the other end hangs up on him before he can finish reciting his name and rank. He doesn’t get far trying to contact their hosts either.

Determined to find his way to the place where they are meant to be, Tewfiq dispatches Khaled (Saleh Bakri), the youngest member of the band to the enquiry booth. He is to ask for directions to ‘Bet Hatikva’. 
Khaled demurs; his English is none too good. But Tewfiq, a whale on discipline glares at him, and off he goes. Charming womaniser that he is, Khaled is more intent on serenading the lady (with a Chet Baker song) at the enquiry booth – she sends them off to find the bus to take them to their supposed destination. 

The bus drops them on the outskirts of a small dusty town in the middle of nowhere. As the men trudge to the little town, tired and hungry, they realise that they are now not just forgotten, they are lost!  As Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), the outspoken owner of the small café tells them when Tewfiq enquires; there is no Arab cultural centre there. In fact, there's...
Their destination must have been the very similar sounding town of 'Petah Tiqva'. 

With no choice, and very little Israeli money in hand, Tewfiq is forced to ask Dina if she would mind giving them lunch in return for Arab money.  Dina has a dry humour and under her snappy comebacks, there is genuine compassion. After a meal of soup and bread, Tewfiq bids her goodbye; he plans to call the consulate so they can take care of everything. That is when Dina drops the next bomb – there is no transport out of the town until the next morning. 

Tewfiq is dismayed.  Well, is there a hotel? Dina is amused; with a wave of her hands, she gestures laconically: 'No hotel.' But she offers to have the men stay with her and her friends, who are unemployed and bored, though obviously curious about these strangers.  With no other option, Tewfiq reluctantly accepts her offer. The band splits up. Simon (Khalifa Netour), the clarinetist and second-in-command and a couple of other band members go with Itzik (Rubi Moscovich) while the last three bed down with Papi (Shlomi Avraham) in the café itself. Tewfiq goes with Dina to her house, and takes Khaled along so he can keep an eye on him.

It’s awkward at first, and Tewfiq is not very comfortable with Dina’s undisguised sexuality. She is a free spirit, who, when he asks her if her husband won’t mind that strange men stay with her, replies amusedly that she will ask her husband when she meets him. Dina delights in poking fun at Tewfiq’s serious mien. It is not the young Khaled that Dina is attracted to; it is the stern Tewfiq. She invites him to a night out on town, which, in this case, is an unprepossessing café.  

When Dina and Tewfiq go out, Khaled, who has been warned to stay out of trouble, decides to tag along with the painfully shy Papi (Shlomi Avraham) for a night out himself. Papi is going on a blind double date, and is not too sure that he wants this suave stranger around. However, as the evening wears on, it is to Khaled he will turn to for advice.
Khaled, whose English cannot describe his feelings adequately, switches to Arabic to describe what it is to be with a girl. "I am both love and the loved one. Love is just a sentence. I am both love and the loved one. Secretly and openly. I say 'me' and no one but 'me'; I'm crazy about myself." (The translation probably doesn't do it justice.)

Simon and his companions are not having too good a time of it at Itzik’s. It’s Itzik’s wife’s birthday, and she is not too happy to have a bunch of Arab strangers at her dinner table. There is an undercurrent of tension that is palpable, and awkward silences fall heavy as the family argue amongst themselves in Hebrew, while Itzik tries hard to maintain some semblance of normalcy.  Snide little asides, bitter comments, an anger that is at once directed inward and outward all simmer under this forced acquaintanceship. 
Finally, an impromptu rendering of George Gershwin’s Summertime marks a reluctant softening – it’s hard to remain hostile over music and a meal.  While one band member goes off to make a phone call to the Egyptian embassy, a chance glimpse at Itzik’s sleeping baby inspires Simon to finish a sonata that he had left incomplete at the birth of his child. 

These multiple strands happen simultaneously, and the film weaves back and forth between them. And when day breaks, the Israelis bid goodbye to the Arab contingent they have played host to for a few hours. Nothing much has happened, but there is a better understanding of each other as human beings. 

Erin Kolrin’s directorial debut  (also written by him) is a poignant exploration of cross-cultural relations between two war-ravaged people.  While ‘slice-of-life’ is such an overused phrase today that it is in danger of becoming a cliché, The Band's Visit does show you vignettes – some funny, some tender, some bittersweet –  the scene where Khaled tutors Papi in how to approach a girl, from handing her a handkerchief when she cries, to showing her his interest in her - all without saying a word! (This is one of the most poignantly funny scenes in the film.)
Or the scene where Tewfiq teaches Dina how to conduct an orchestra – in that moment, the taciturn Egyptian widower and the brash Israeli divorcee share a chemistry that is evident, though the night's ending is not as obvious as it seems.
The film belongs to Tewfiq and Dina – he, a man who wants everything to happen with military precision; she, a free spirit who is intensely lonely, but does not regret any of the turns that her life has taken. She mocks him openly, but she is drawn to this sad-eyed, gentle voiced martinet. He is horrified by her open sensuality, but is indebted to her, and is definitely intrigued by the vulnerability he senses under her tough exterior.  As the night goes on, she will come to see the loving and compassionate man under the starched uniform, as he will appreciate her wry humour and independent spirit. 

The Band's Visit is not a very political film, though it does address the unease that each feel at the ‘other’.  However, it's done very subtly. Dina's café is lined with photographs of Israel's military heroes, and army tanks. One of the band's members looks around uncomfortably, and finally, taking off his cap, hangs it casually over the face of the nearest portrait. Or, the scene when Dina confesses that as a child, her mother and she used to devour Omar Sharif and Egyptian films on television in the afternoon; and the streets of Israel would be empty because everyone else would also be watching them. Now they are no longer shown on Israeli television.

Yet, I would call the film more a portrait of humanity, painted lovingly and with humour – a look into what life could be if only there were more attempts at understanding each other.  Nothing much really happens in the 90 minutes, yet we are not left dissatisfied. The film is a wonderful mixture of silence and dialogue, wry humour and melancholy; and the spoken dialogues swing between English, Hebrew and Arabic without apology.  

This film was Israel’s official entry to the Oscars. The worthy folks at the American Motion Pictures Academy rejected it because 50% of the film’s dialogue was in English. Given that the only common language between the Israelis and the Egyptians is English (the characters break into their respective languages when they want to talk privately), and the film deals with how people communicate despite language barriers, this was a strange, and unreasonable rejection. (Israel took back the entry and entered Beaufort as the country’s official entry.)

p.s. This review is for Yves and Pradeep, both of whom feel that I do not review enough of such movies, and have been vocal in their protests. :)


  1. I saw this film two years back and I had nearly forgotten this, reading your review broughtback the memories!!!!

    Such a lovely film!!!!

    How I wish that people could understand each other and live in good will!

    Such a heartwarming film!!!!!

    We want more such films.

  2. Yes, we do, harvey. This was such a, a quiet film, no?

  3. Watched this movie on TV, a couple of years back - think it was the first movie that we saw together on TV after marriage. Must have spooked her off on my tastes:)

    While it isn't a political movie explicitly, there are under currents that cannot be swept away. Considering that there are no easy answers when it comes to saying what is right and what is wrong in such a contentious issue and the tempers that it would otherwise flare, it probably makes sense to make a movie on the Israel-Arab issue with a touch of humour. Iranians seem to be master at making such politically delicate movies creamed with a dollop of heart-warming humour...

    Well, well, I am overwhelmed that Ms Anu has dedicated a post to a humble soul like me and taken my vocal protest seriously! What more can a blog reader ask for but for such recognition? Of course, you better stick to your core constituency which is a large enough crowd, Madam; I'm just a minority reader here...

  4. Didn't she like it?

    I liked that the political undertones came
    across very subtly, and without pointing fingers. I've liked most of the
    Iranian films I have seen too, for the simple way they get their points

    Well, well, I am overwhelmed that Ms Anu has
    dedicated a post to a humble soul like me and taken my vocal protest

    Pffft! *poking tongue out* Don't be snarky!

  5. Didn't she like it?

    Actually, don't remember, it was early days. But when we came across a scene from the film after many days while browsing TV channels, she seemed to remember the film, but I couldn't place it immediately. Guess, she must have registered it at that time, not explicitly though...

  6. Grrr! Anu, this was the film you'd warned me about that I'd go WDGTT when I read the review? Yes, I am! Ah, I so wish I could see this... must look for it. Sounds fascinating.

    Incidentally, while reading your review, I was reminded of my trip to Israel back in 1998 with my parents. we stayed in East Jerusalem - the Palestinian side of the city, and the area that includes the walled city, the Mount of Olives, and all (? guessing) the other Christian sites in Jerusalem.

    We invariably wandered around only in East Jerusalem, and would be warmly welcomed everywhere we went. "Indians? Ah, you are our friends!" The difference between East and West Jerusalem (the latter the Jewish half of the city) was palpable and just a little bit uncomfortable, even for us, who were total outsiders, neither Israeli nor Palestinian. 

  7. Grrr! Anu, this was the film you'd warned me about that I'd go WDGTT when I read the review?

    :) Yes! This one's really a must-watch, Madhu, just as A Separation. For anyone, I think, who loves good cinema. There is something about the use of humour in this movie that underlines its pathos.

  8. This has very little to do with the movie though the recurring theme right through is music and the fact that it is mostly American Jazz that brings the two Egyptians , Tewfiq and Khaled to understand each other . This is the song that Khaled sings to the girl in the ticket booth when she gives him the tickets for Bet Hatikva. This is Chet Baker singing and playing the trumpet though I must confess that I feel his performance here is shaded by the brief solo from Lars Gullin, another great musician and like Chet hopelessly addicted to narcotics. Lars's ability to  coax such beautiful light notes from an heavy instrument like the baritone sax never ceases to amaze me.


  9. I will try & see this movie, due to your excellent review. Ronit Elkabetz is a very sensual actress, I saw her in "Late Marriage"; a film about arranged marriage among a certain community in Israel. She most certainly fits the part of a "free spirit".

  10. Thank you, Samir. Please do watch it - there is so much that is said in those silences, and the expressions are so beautifully 'vocal' that you do not miss the words at all. And yes, Ronit Elkabetz *is* very sensual; and a fantastic actress, as is Sasson Gabai.

  11. I like that scene where Tewfiq and Khaled come to a better understanding of each other. It was understated, yet so natural. I also like that the director didn't make a big issue out of it.

  12. I'm sadly deprived of world cinema here. Not that they don't show them, they do - a lot, but the subtitles are not in English :-(
    So I'm not even aware of what all is out there.
    It seems just like a film I would love. Perhaps, some day I would find it's DVD somewhere.

  13. Ohhh, that is bad. :( I'm pretty sure this one's DVD should be available on Amazon. It's an 'old' movie by today's standards. The problem I have is trying to stop myself from buying more DVDs - they can be pretty expensive. I was looking for the DVD of a movie called The Other Side of Sunday and it's upwards of $20.00. That can add up to quite a bit of change when you buy DVDs like I do. :( I hope you do get to watch it some time - I think you'll like it.

  14. The Band's Visit movie download Actors: Imad Jabarin Rubi Moskovitz Ronit Elkabetz Saleh Bakri Khalifa Natour Uri Gavriel Sasson Gabai Hilla Sarjon Shlomi Avraham Download The Band's Visit The Band s Visit | 


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