The Arab-Israeli conflict is complicated. Even calling it "the Arab-Israeli conflict" provokes questions. After countless debates, peace deals, brokered then broken cease-fires, and even a road map; it seems only fitting that a seemingly apolitical movie would make such a strong political statement against the ridiculous behavior of leaders on both sides.
It's films like Eran Kolirin's The Band's Visit that keep my belief in humanity strong. The opening tagline announces, "Once-not long ago-a small Egyptian police band arrived in Israel. Not many remember this...It wasn't that important." Only, as the film goes on to explain, it is "unimportant" events like this that shape who we are and how we act. The story begins just as the police band from Alexandria is being dropped off at an Israeli airport. Decked out in sky blue military-style uniforms, they are by no means keeping a low profile. They even get their picture taken in a hilarious opening scene that sets the stage for the many awkward moments to come. (The camera work is brilliant- every shoulder shrug, facial twitch, and uncomfortable silent moment is captured completely unpretentiously, something many "indie" films can't seem to figure out.) The band was invited to play at the Arab Cultural Center in Petah Tiqwa, but when a P gets mistaken for a B, they end up in a lonely desert town where the only entertainment appears to be a roller disco that has a very eastern European feel to it. With the next bus a day away, and little to no Israeli money, they are forced to rely on the kindness of complete strangers. Complete strangers that they, of course, are expected to hate. Dina, played wonderfully by the absolutely beautiful Ronit Elkabetz, runs a restaurant on the edge of town where the band, led by "the general" Tawfiq, played perfectly by Israeli actor Sasson Gabai, stops to ask for directions. When it becomes clear that they are in the wrong place, and stuck for the night, Dina makes arrangements for the band to stay at various locations across town. Tawfiq, at first a bit reluctant, agrees to stay and ends up at Dina's place.
During the course of the film, I felt as if I knew the characters. I related to their hopes, desires, flaws, painful regrets, and I felt the underlying awareness of the political situation they all felt and were forced to deal with. Dina is tough and fiercely independent on the outside, but is deeply depressed and substitutes sex for love. Tawfiq is strict, especially with the womanizing Haled, but really views himself as a father figure to the youngest officer. Tawfiq's second in command lacks the self-esteem to finish his clarinet concerto, but is inspired by a stranger's advice and infant child. There is a scene at the roller disco that is, for lack of a better word, adorable. If it doesn't move you, you have no pulse. The film is full of subplots, each adding to the development and fascinatingly complex depth of the characters.
In a better world Tawfiq and Dina could expand on their shared moments, but for various obvious reasons, that are no fault of their own, this isn't an option. It may not be an option now, but as The Band's Visit makes abundantly clear, a better world is possible.