Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Band's Visit: A Film by Elan Korilin

Sixteen people braved the forecast of yet another blizzard last Friday night to come to the Thomas Ford Memorial Library to attend our fortnightly film discussion. The film was Israeli director Elan Korilin's gentle look at Israeli-Arab relations, The Band's Visit. Their luck held. The storm came late in the night hours after they enjoyed a sweet comedy.

It would be easy to overstate yet under appreciate the unspoken political aspects of the film. An Egyptian band from Alexandria visits Israel to celebrate the opening of an Arab cultural center, but no one meets them at the airport. They are then lost when they take a bus to the wrong community. Korilin could have used differences to drive the plot, but he chose instead to develop connections. Viewers are quickly more interested in the relationships of individuals and oblivious to any regional conflicts.

"No one makes films like that in America" was one comment, referring to the great use of silence and the slow passage of time. As the projectionist, I was at first concerned that we had no sound, as the film began without music, focused on a white van parked outside an airport in southern Israel. For a minute, maybe two, there was nothing to hear and little to see. Finally, we heard the click of the van door and the soft steps of its driver. The sound did work. With silence Korilin quietly caught our attention and made us listen very closely.

Also, The Band's Visit is a film with very wisely rationed music. There are no throw-away let's-bridge-two-scenes melodies. Most of the music comes late in the film, a reward for those who wait patiently. In a short documentary on the DVD, the director explains how he stripped much of the original music from the film. He also tells how he focused more on images than on dialogue and plot to get the script right. It took him nine years.

The Band's Visit swept the 2007 film awards in Israel. Its cast is a mixture of Israelis and Palestinians. It is an infectiously hopeful film for a sad and broken time. I recommend it for film discussions and library collections.

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