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Two Masked Apples in a Desert in Eran Kolirin’s Band’s Visit (2007) October 29, 2008

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemanila.
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Hebrew Title: Bikur Ha-Tizmoret
Written and directed by Eran Kolirin
Cast: Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri

Cinemanila has this strange yet enduring tradition of selecting winners for its Lino Brocka Grand Prize Award; sometimes its choice is so screwball you would think it is bound to make a fuss. But this prerogative to choose mostly overlooked films, the understated ones that also deserve praise as much as its contemporaries did abroad, is actually a virtue of cinematic justice – – standing up for equally substantial works that reveal an interesting view of the world from wherever deserted island their filmmakers may be. Majid Majidi’s Color of Paradise, as maudlin as its title is, pulls off a very engaging tale of a blind child’s relationship with his father, who sees him as a burden to his planned marriage. It overwhelms with beautiful shots and touching innocence, and even the utter sentimentality of its final scene is forgivable. What Time Is It There? is Tsai Ming-Liang’s foray to transnational disconnection and nostalgia between lovers whose spatial distance is eclipsed by a more depressing absence in their spirit. In 2003, Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan beat Meirelles’ much-lauded City of God with Uzak, undoubtedly one of the finest releases in the last ten years and the film that exquisitely captures the cynicism of twenty-first century subsistence. The year after, the prize was awarded to Ryuichi Hiroki’s Vibrator, which, thanks to Raymond Lee’s unabashed tolerance, I saw when I was still two years away from being MTRCB-legal. A moody erotica with a pair of hungry strangers seeking for affection that escaped from themselves, Vibrator is a gem rarely acknowledged, featuring intense performances from both of its actors.

This year the jury handed over the Bulol to The Band’s Visit, an entry from Israel whose popularity is indebted to the Academy’s foolishness when it disqualified the film for the Best Foreign Language Film category because more than half of its dialogue is in English. It is technically legitimate, that dispute over failing to submit to the rules – – but the Academy had obviously missed the point of its use in the film, or yet its members have not realized the film’s profound understanding of cultural displacement, exceptionally emphasized by the use of English language. As if to compensate the fret, Beaufort, the film that Israel submitted after the controversy, got nominated.

The Band’s Visit is a humorous remembrance of an Egyptian police band that was sent to Israel to perform, only to be lost in a remote town where people were not even familiar with their destination. It may be a matter of dislocation – – of finding yourself in a wrong place – – but Kolirin gives his debut work less a sense of geography than a handshake of history, of the century-long Arab-Israeli conflict happening somewhere far from the Middle East and Northern Africa. A fictional town in a vast desert is the last place that Tewfiq, the band’s leader, would want his group to find themselves in but luck is on their side when they meet Dina, a restaurant owner who offers them shelter. It may not have much plot to speak of – – as the film spends all its time from the band’s arrival to the town till its departure the day after, thus their awkward stay in Dina and her friend’s place for a night, their talks, their unusual trips outside, the people they have to deal with for hospitality – – but its virtues are more than cinematic, it is the kind of work that wears its politics on its sleeves yet you don’t see it, you just feel it’s there. The politics is unmistakably there, but you tend to notice other things, its mature simplicity, its seamless storytelling, its deftly crafted characters – – everything becomes a humble appreciation of life, of happiness in misery, of suffering and contentment because there is no other choice after all.

The dry humor fills the film with great interest. It seems to imply that if there is one thing more suppressing than distance from our loved ones it is the distance from ourselves, like we are two beings, two bodies, two souls, separated, looking at each other, telling the difference but finding nothing else except for being apart. In the end when the band has finally found the Arab cultural center in Petah Tiqva and starts to perform, Sasson Gabai’s spiritually shoveling voice and Saleh Bakri’s contagious grin, as well as the air of comforting acceptance, it supposes that we will all come to our end no matter what – – and we certainly will.

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