The Band's Visit: A Welcomed Arrival

February 29, 2008

dc02290810.jpgIf you’ve been too afraid to approach that group of intellectuals that congregate outside your politics class, here’s a topic to catch their attention: foreign film. Ever a category to get the intellectuals going, foreign film has often been recognized as an acquired taste, something geared towards espresso-drinking, The New Yorker-reading yuppies and their middle-aged counterparts. But, that’s not always the case. Sometimes a foreign film comes along and it’s simply good, and enjoyable—for everyone. The Band’s Visit fits the bill as a feel-good Friday night flick, maybe too slow-paced for some, but otherwise pleasant, sweet, and simple, and not in a way which undermines the serious and emotional topics the film addresses.

The Band’s Visit follows the arrival of an Egyptian police band to the mistaken destination of the Israeli middle-of-nowhere town Bet Hativka (the intended destination being Pet Hativka, an unfortunate error granted by guttural-heavy, consonant-friendly Hebrew). It’s a foreign film about foreigners communicating in tongue foreign to both themselves and the natives, though, serving as an amusing twist, one that is common to the limited American audience—English. This detail brings forth the comedic and incredibly endearing features of the film as the characters introduce themes of love and loneliness, making way past the layers of language barriers. The English element also adds another level of intrigue to the very idea of a foreign film, providing subtitles in the language already spoken by the characters, correcting their grammar and interpreting their misuse of idioms.

The necessity of the characters to rely on other tools to communicate provides the gushing sincerity of The Band’s Visit, presenting the musical aspect of the film and establishing the relationships of the characters. An especially entertaining example is provided by Khaled, the rebellious, young violin/trumpet player of the Alexandria orchestra band. Khaled is not romantically thwarted by his poor English, communicating instead with the aid of his favorite musician, Chet Baker; he asks fair young ladies if they are familiar with the American singer, after which he breaks into song, crooning Baker’s hit,“My Funny Valentine.”

To describe the film as being minimal is accurate, but to characterize it as a flaw is completely wrong. The lack of dependence on language and words allows for an abundance of captivating scenes and interaction between the characters, building upon the film’s complex themes while relating simple details and information. There’s no confusion, but there’s still a satisfying sense of ambiguity. Also, there’s plenty of content as far as dialogue goes, the language issue hardly presenting itself as an actual deterrent to communication. In fact, there are several poignant exchanges which could only have been conceived through broken English, such as the moment when Dina, the lonesome femme fatale of Bet Hativka, mentions to Tawfiq in her endearing defeatist way, “My life is an Arab movie.”

The Band’s Visit provides a certain unexplainable level of contentment. The best I can describe it is by taking a note from the film itself: It’s the kind of satisfaction you get when you correctly articulate a thought in an unfamiliar language to a native speaker, probably using the minimal vocabulary you learned in high school, but nonetheless feeling a sense of achievement in bridging a communication gap to reach an understanding you didn’t know you were capable of facilitating.

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