THE BAND’S VISIT Directed by Eran Kolirin. 89 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (February 15). Rating: NNNN
Bitter salt turns to refined sugar in The Band’s Visit, an uncompromised crowd-pleaser that sweetens Arab-Israeli relations with servings of humanity, wit and hilarity.
Eran Kolirin’s debut feature follows the Alexandria Ceremonial Orchestra, a lost and forgotten Arab military police band. Dressed in dusty blue military regalia and lugging along some heavy cultural baggage, they’re stranded in a near-deserted Israeli town where they meet only indifference.
All that changes when they’re offered hospitality by Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), a vibrant, sensual café owner. Dina hopes to melt the cold reserve of the band’s leader, Tawfiq (Sasson Gabai), an overly serious old gent who hesitates to remove his military cap even at dinner and constantly looks like he’s sucking on a lemon.
Kolirin’s visual flair is evident in his elegant portrait-like shooting style, in which characters – bathed in red and blue hues – frequently pose mid-action in picturesque tableaux.
Speaking Hebrew, Arabic and often English (disqualifying the film for Academy Awards consideration), the characters jive over American musicians like Chet Baker and Michael Jackson, a nod to the ways art transcends some pretty tense borders.
That’s one of many too-familiar tropes, but Kolirin’s ironic use of it here feels fresh and rewarding.