In a situation that would typically be treated as broad comedy, writer and director Eran Kolirin applies cool, deadpan humor, defusing a heated situation with subtlety and wit. His debut film, The Band's Visit, takes place during one day, and follows the awkward encounter between a group of Egyptian musicians and residents of an isolated Israeli town.
Mordantly funny and full of sly social commentary, The Band's Visit is the kind of film where not much happens. Like one of Jim Jarmusch's or Aki Kaurismäki's minimalist portraits, Kolirin's low-key style allows for the smallest gestures to resonate far beyond their everyday meaning, and lets the audience glimpse the hopes and anxieties his characters have submerged deep below their placid surfaces.
The members of the Alexandria Police Ceremonial Orchestra arrive at an immaculately clean airport in Israel to find no one waiting for them. Dressed in powder blue uniforms, and wearing their insecurity on their sleeves, they seem like defiant refugees all too accustomed to being forgotten. In a few quick strokes, Kolirin highlights the rifts within the group, as well as their tenuous status back home.
The stubbornness of conductor and orchestra taskmaster, Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai), combined with a very limited Hebrew vocabulary, finds them on a bus to the wrong locale. Instead of Peta Tikvah, where they are to perform at the opening of an Arab Cultural Center, they end up in a remote, undistinguished town that seems to have sprung fully formed from the desert. It's called Bet Hatikva, and here Kolirin reveals the optimist beneath the comedic craftsman: the town doesn't exist on Israel's map, but the name means House of Hope.
Walking in formation, their wheeled luggage and instrument cases humming behind them, the musicians end up at a small café owned by Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), whose teasing, defiant manner belies her curiosity and compassion. Realizing that the orchestra is stuck there for the night, she organizes an impromptu welcoming committee, and the stage is set for an offbeat cross-cultural jam session.
With titles in Hebrew and Arabic, the Israeli filmmaker expresses his desire to bridge cultural and political divides, but what's fascinating is that his characters converse primarily in English. This decision emphasizes the feeling in The Band's Visit that in order for the characters to truly communicate, they need to get outside themselves, to look past a tumultuous history and celebrate their common ground.
Opens Friday, Feb. 29, at the Landmark Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.