The Band’s Visit: Israel’s Best Picture of 2007

Saleh Bakri, Ronit Elkabetz, and Sasson Gabay in The Band's Visit. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The Band’s Visit dominated the Israeli Film Academy Awards upon its 2007 release by taking home eight Ophir Awards, including Best Picture.

Eran Kolirin is a filmmaker that knew what he wanted right from the very beginning. It took nine years to pen the screenplay but it all starts with a man dressed as a police officer. The officer is a leader of a band and he meets a lonely woman. On another level, the film works as a fairy tale. There is both misery and absurd humor. At times, you cannot help but laugh at the situation. I mean, here’s a band that was booked for an Arab cultural center in Petah Tikva but ends up on a bus to Beit Hatikva in the Negev. Beit Hatikva is a fictional city but there’s a deeper meaning in the town’s name upon translating to English : House of Hope.

The Alexandra Police Band arrives in Israel, where audiences meet their very strict conductor, Tawfiq Zacharya (Sasson Gabai). We don’t know much about his background at the beginning but he later opens up to an Israeli woman. Realizing that they are in the wrong town–unfortunately, the bus will not be arriving until the following day–they arrive at Dina’s (Ronit Elkabetz) restaurant and make the best of it. Dina can be joyful but there’s also this sense of melancholy about her as she and Tawfiq get to know each other. Their meeting is but one of a few subplots because band members end up staying at a pair of apartments and the restaurant. None of them stay at hotels, which makes one wonder just how small of a town that it is. This is in a decade that precedes the rise of AirBnb.

Rinat Matatov, Shlomi Avraham, and Saleh Bakri in The Band's Visit.
Rinat Matatov, Shlomi Avraham, and Saleh Bakri in The Band’s Visit. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Haled (Saleh Bakri) is the youngest member of the band but also involved in one of the best scenes in the film. But before I get to that, this is a guy who marches to the beat of his own drum. But anyway, the skating rink scene is one of the standout moments in the 87-minute film. Kolirin does not give his actors actual lines in the particular sequence but the body gestures alone are more powerful than any dialogue that he could have written. All you need to do is look at the above image to see what I’m talking about. Papi (Shlomi Avraham) is a blind date with Yula (Rinat Matatov). Bakri portrays an Egyptian in the film and he’s basically advising the Israeli about what to do.

I haven’t watched a lot of Israeli cinema through the years. That said, I do my best in trying to capture the festival films and Ophir Award winners. What we have here is something that feels different from a lot of cinema. It’s not a film that builds bridges per se but it does show the humanity between Israelis and Palestinians. They are working together on screen and I’d like to think that this can still be possible going forward. It might not feel like this at the moment but one can only hope. They are creating art here and it’s absolutely beautiful.

Habib Shehadeh Hanna composes the score. More often than not, it’s presented through the band’s perspective. It isn’t just a case of finding music to underscore a scene but the band itself is playing the music. Of course, this isn’t always easy for actors but they put in the work in learning how to play the instruments. We might not exactly hear them on the soundtrack but they work enough to where viewers won’t catch the mistakes on camera.

Despite winning the Ophir Awards, it did not qualify for the Oscars due to the language requirements for international feature films. Over half of the film is spoken in English so Israel submitted Beaufort in its place. As the film transitioned to the stage, it took home both Tony and Grammy Awards. I’d like to think there’s a universe where it get an Oscar nomination and wins–I can dream.

The Band’s Visit may have won many awards but it’s a film that shows the potential for Israelis and Arabs to see the humanity in each other. One can only hope that this film shows the potential for what the future can hold. It’s an awkward situation for sure but they make the best of it.

CAST: Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, Khalifa Natour

Sony Pictures Classics released The Band’s Visit in theaters on December 7, 2007. Grade: 4.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.