The Band’s Visit tells the story of an eight-man Egyptian police orchestra that gets lost in Israel and lands in a dead-end desert town, where bemused and amused locals take the musicians into their homes, and into their weary hearts.
Offering a glimpse into a better world, one where the distance between strangers can miraculously melt away, “The Band’s Visit” triumphed at the Israel film academy’s 2007 awards and has reaped accolades at film festivals abroad.
So it seems unfortunate — or perhaps simply typical, given the unforgiving nature of the Middle East — that a film trying to bridge the region’s bitter divides has been blocked from film festivals in the Arab world and become the focus of a rancorous dispute at home.
In a nutshell, it appears that the director of a competing Israeli film arranged for Oscar authorities to find out that less than 50% of the dialogue was in Hebrew or Arabic, which technically made it ineligible for consideration as Best Foreign Film. Sony Pictures, the film’s distributor is trying to get it considered in other categories though that, frankly, seems a fool’s errand given the chances of success.
Arab film festivals seem to have developed an allergic reaction to the idea of screening a film in which Arabs and Jews actually interact as human beings. It’s sad that even Abu Dhabi, one of the more progressive Arab states isn’t ready to screen an Israeli film, even one as progressive and tolerant as this one:
The producers said they had received an invitation to the inaugural Middle East International Film Festival, held in Abu Dhabi in mid-October — a first for an Israeli film in the Arab world. “We got an official invite to participate,” Mr. Ratzkovsky said. “We double-checked and got an e-mail from a programmer saying the crown prince had approved our participation.”
But the invitation leaked out to the news media, and in the meantime the Egyptian Actors Union had threatened to withdraw all Egyptian films from the festival if “The Band’s Visit” was shown, according to local newspaper reports. (There is nothing unusual about the union’s boycotting an Israeli production. Like many professional associations in Egypt, it opposes any normalization of ties with Israel, despite a formal peace treaty that has been in place for almost 30 years.)
“Then we got a mail from Abu Dhabi saying we were uninvited, because we had gone to the press before being formally nominated,” Mr. Ratzkovsky said. “We didn’t fight it. Once politics got involved, we just said O.K., thanks and bye.”
One of the Israeli members of the Shalom Salaam Network who’s seen the film writes this:
Anyone familiar with Israel and its town-scapes should go and see it. Riskily understated (not a characteristic we’re usually known for), well observed, quirky. I saw it the other night and when I left the new, but already tatty cinema in a nearby industrial complex I looked around and thought I was still in the movie.
Besides the NY Times article provoking my interest, when I watched the YouTube video and realized the film’s theme song, Every Beautiful Thing (Kol Davar Yafeh) was sung in both Arabic and Hebrew I was sold. This is such an important cultural enterprise to show that the two languages, two cultures and two peoples can co-exist together even if it’s just in a song.
Here is Variety’s review. It opens Friday, February 8th in the U.S. I’ll feature an Amazon link to the DVD as soon as it’s available.