The Band’s Visit finally made it to Tallahassee theaters this past week. I went in expecting an amusing movie of culture clash and came out realizing I’d seen a deeply profound film that was equal parts comedy and tragedy. The qualities of silence and stillness are used to great effect, especially in the recurring shot of the Egyptian band, lost, standing by the side of the road. In the opening sequences, there’s an understated humor to this shot. In the ending scenes, it’s a source of great sadness.
In between, the Egyptian police band goes to the wrong city in Israel, one that doesn’t have an Arab cultural center, and has to spend the night, helped by a woman who runs a cafe. You have a few “types,” like the young, undisciplined ladies man, but in general, it’s about human beings, not stereotypes. The leader of the band, a somewhat stern, yet hopelessly comical, man goes from being the object of humor to the object of a kind of sadness about the world and what happens in it that I found very moving. It reminded me of the effect in Nabokov’s Pnin, to some extent, in which Pnin begins as a kind of bumbling professor but is revealed as fully and three-dimensionally human by story’s end.
I don’t want to mislead anyone who hasn’t seen the movie: it is definitely funny, but as the plot progresses, as the night progresses, the humor is more and more interwoven with something more serious. Some reviewers have called this movie “quiet” and indicated it’s something of a “small indie” film. I found it much richer than that. I really loved this movie. I have no idea what an Egyptian or Israeli might think of it, but for me it worked perfectly.