'The Band's Visit' fairy tale almost included an Oscar nomination

Colin Covert
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

The Band’s Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret)

Director: Eran Kolirin
Cast: Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, Khalifa Natour, Imad Jabarin, Tarak Kopty
Distributor: Sony
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
First date: 2007
UK Release Date: 2007-11-09 (Limited release)
US Release Date: 2007-12-07 (Limited release)

The good news for first-time director Eran Kolirin was that his culture-clash comedy "The Band's Visit" would be Israel's official entry in this year's Academy Awards. The bad news came soon afterward. The ironic political fable was disqualified because its Arab and Israeli characters communicate in English.

During a recent visit to Minneapolis, the trim, energetic Kolirin reacted to the absurdity of the situation with a what-can-you-do shrug.

"I don't think you can look at `The Band's Visit' if you're not into regulation and word-counting and say this is not a foreign language film. They made this rule so an American producer wouldn't use American actors to make a movie in Romania and enter it as a foreign film. Then the rule becomes much bigger than the idea it stands for."

The ruling was a funhouse reflection of his film's theme, that cultural restrictions are hostile to human happiness. The film follows eight Egyptian musicians marooned for a day in a small Israeli town and the tentative friendships they forge with their Jewish hosts.

Cultural exchange "is a basic, fundamental question of what humans can give to each other emotionally, which is what stands as the basis of why to make peace at all," Kolirin said. "It's the most basic thing, but all this dialogue is being overlooked from a capitalist point of view, which is all about how much can you take?"

Kolirin recalled his youth, when his nation's single TV station broadcast Israeli programming half the day and Arabic programming the other half. Now there are 200 channels, and no one is exposed to their neighbors' ways of life.

"This connection that did exist once is getting more and more to be a cultural division," he explained, an insight that adds a somewhat melancholy touch to his feel-good fable.

"It's a fairy tale, a once-upon-a-time story," Kolirin admitted. "I found it tough sometimes to get the gentle tone right. It's easy to be angry all the time. Being dark is addictive. It's a shield, somewhere, to hide yourself. When you do something gentle, you're also very vulnerable."

His story doesn't end on an unrealistically upbeat note, though. It's doubtful they all live happily ever after.

"It's very clear to me that at the end of the story when it finishes all the characters are back to real life, which is so mediocre. Nobody advances. We never advance anywhere; we always go back to our old positions and make our old mistakes."

Kolirin avoided explicit political messages, preferring to mix social and personal issues in unconventional ways.

"It has a political statement in the way I feel comfortable in speaking, not like an issue film," he said. "If I had a statement, I wouldn't be wasting three, four years of my life with this movie. If it can all go to a statement, why bother?"

The film's vision of multi-ethnic coexistence was a carefully maintained illusion. Because it was impossible to import Egyptian actors to play the stranded band members, Kolirin used Israelis of Iraqi and Palestinian descent, coaching them on the Egyptian Arabic dialect that the characters would speak. And the film won't be distributed in Arab countries. At least not officially.

"They can download it on the Internet," he said with a chuckle. "My composer just left me a message saying there was a good review in Lebanon. I was very happy."





'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.