A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Band's Visit (Eran Kolirin, 2007)

Rinat Matatov, Shlomi Avraham, and Saleh Bakri in The Band's Visit
Tawfiq Zacharya: Sasson Gabal
Dina: Ronit Elkabetz
Haled: Saleh Bakri
Simon: Khalifa Natour
Avrum: Uri Gavriel
Papi: Shlomi Avraham
Yula: Rinat Matatov
Iris: Hilla Sarjon
Lea: Ahuva Keren
Ars: Tomer Josef

Director: Eran Kolirin
Screenplay: Eran Kolirin
Cinematography: Shai Goldman
Film editing: Arik Leibovitch
Music: Habib Shadah

The Band's Visit is a cats-and-dogs movie: a meeting of two supposedly antagonistic cultures, in which each side learns something from the confrontation. But it avoids formula by fresh performances and a wry directorial distancing. Eight members of a police force orchestra from Alexandria, Egypt, find themselves stranded in the Israeli desert because of a misunderstanding about the name of their destination. They are supposed to play at the opening of an Arab Cultural Center in Israel, but they get off the bus by the side of the highway, across from a small cafe. The owner of the cafe, Dina, scoffs at the notion that they are there to play at a cultural center: "Here there is no Arab culture. Also, no Israeli culture. Here there is no culture at all." The bleak little town is mostly modern high-rise apartments and the "park" has neither grass nor trees. She discovers the source of the error -- they were supposed to go to a town whose name sounded similar -- and tells them that there's not another bus until the next morning. The stubborn, autocratic leader of the band, Tawfiq, decides to set out on foot, and the other seven band members, dressed in light blue uniforms, follow until Haled, a handsome young violinist, complains that they haven't eaten all day. Tawfiq blows his top and puts Haled on report, but when the other band members confess their hunger, relents and returns to the cafe, where Dina feeds them and suggests that she and some of the men who hang around the cafe can put them up for the night. And so the film tracks the experiences of these strangers in a strange land through the night. We learn, for example, why Tawfiq is such a sourpuss and why the clarinetist, Simon, is blocked in his attempts to compose a concerto. The most charming and funny scene involves Haled, who has already been established as something of a ladies' man, who goes out as a fifth wheel with Ars and Papi on their double date. Papi is upset because he has been stuck with Yula, whom he regards as depressing. But then Papi is a virgin with no experience of women, and Haled takes it on himself to show Papi the ropes. At a small roller disco, Papi and Haled, who don't know how to skate, are sidelined. Yula tries to get Papi out on the floor, but he rebuffs her. As closing time draws near, an attendant starts packing up the plastic chairs, and Yula, who is in tears, is forced to sit on a bench with Papi and Haled, who takes a handkerchief out of his pocket and hands it to Papi, who hands it to Yula. Then Haled takes a small airline liquor bottle out of his pocket, hands it to Papi, prompting him to offer Yula a drink. She accepts and Papi returns the bottle to Haled after both have drunk from it. Then Haled places his hand on Papi's knee as a suggestion that he follow suit with Yula. Then he begins to caress Papi's knee as another suggestion. Finally, when Yula puts her hand on Papi's, Papi puts his hand on Haled's. Haled removes it: lesson over. This long single take is characteristic of director Eran Kolirin's sly style throughout the film, which was a huge hit in Israel and would have been that country's Oscar nominee for best foreign language film except that it was ruled ineligible because half of the dialogue is in English -- the language the Egyptians and Israelis use to communicate with one another. 

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