The Band’s Visit

The Band’s Visit begins with a gently absurd level of theatricality. Not the kind of camp histrionics that Baz Luhrmann starts his movies with, but rather the stylised simplicity of Akira Kurosawa or Roy Andersson. In the opening shots, cleaners at the airport walk across the frame from edge to edge, creating an implicit proscenium arch, and the palette is chilled to a pale blue that matches the uniforms of the Alexandria Ceremonial Orchestra, the eponymous musical outfit, who have travelled from Egypt to Israel to perform at the inauguration of an Arab Culture Centre.

The band is led by the pursed lips and imposing nose of Tawfiq Zacharya (Sasson Gabai), whose pride is made manifest in his moustache. With the most elementary of phonetic mistakes, Tawfiq and his orchestra end up in one of those villages of parched concrete banality that dot the deserts from Tripoli to Samarkand. There is nothing for the band to do but idle away the hours until the next bus; a conceit that gives writer-director Eran Kolirin the opportunity to patiently play with a microcosm of Arab-Israeli relations.

In an interview included on this edition of the DVD, Kolirin explains that the aesthetic of the film emerged from an imagined moment of a uniformed, disciplined Arab man singing a plangent song, unaccompanied by instruments or fanfare — a carapace surrounding a palpitating soul. It is a stirring image and one that has inspired a beautifully crafted and tender film whose humour and strict cinematic vocabulary save it from any charge of self-indulgence or cute exoticism.