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“The Band’s Visit”

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By Matt Singer

“The Band’s Visit” is an antidote to the more common treatment of racial and ethnic difference on screen, which is typically characterized by tragic miscommunication and huge conflicts of monumental importance. (Think “Babel.”) Instead, the focus of Eran Kolirin’s feature debut is squarely on humanity’s potential to overcome those sorts of roadblocks and find a common ground. The result is intentionally light, maybe even a little slight, but also unquestionably warm and charming.

An Egyptian police band, led by stern conductor Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai), arrives in Israel to play a special concert at the opening of an Arab Culture Center in Beit Hatikva. Problem is, there is no Arab Culture Center in Beit Hatikva — where the band hears Beit Hatikva, they should have heard Petah Tikva — and there’s no chance of transportation out of the desolate little desert town until the next morning. The proprietor of a local café, named Diana (Ronit Elkabetz), takes a few of the members in and encourages her friends to do the same. The film follows the events of the night with amusement, sympathy and hope.

A lot has been made of “The Band’s Visit”‘s disqualification from contention for the Oscar for best foreign language film on a technicality; because the Egyptians and the Israelis do not understand each other, they communicate by speaking English (which is spoken far too often in the Academy’s purview to merit Oscar consideration). But even if the Academy had permitted director Kolirin’s film to compete in the category, it would have made a bad fit for the award, where specific nations each submit a single film for consideration, a notion that encourages divisiveness and international competition. Though “The Band’s Visit” is an Israeli film, it suggests a community built beyond that country — or any country’s — borders, and it’s pretty hard to imagine this charming little film or its creators engaging in a cutthroat campaign all for the sake of a little golden statue.

One seemingly superficial aspect of the film bears a great deal of importance. Though most of the dialogue is in English, the entire film is subtitled, allowing English speaking audiences to understand not only the dialogue between the Egyptians and the Israelis, but the words exchanged within each group as well. But the entire plot is centered around the idea that neither faction can fully express themselves to one another; and several crucial moments play upon the fact that when one side needs to share privileged information with others, they revert from English to their first language. Hypothetically, Kolirin could have printed the film unsubtitled; the dialogue, particularly in Arabic and Hebrew, is sparse enough that everything would have been clear without them. Or he could have subtitled one group or the other. Instead, he gave the audience more information than any character onscreen, allowing viewers to stand outside the automatic distrust that a language barrier breeds and feel as if they are one of the Egyptians and the Israelis.

A pre-credits crawl informs us that the film is loosely based on a real life incident. “Not many remember this,” it says, “it was not that important.” It sounds like a pretty soft sell for a movie, but “The Band’s Visit” boils down to that very fact. It wasn’t a very eventful visit. To Kolirin, that, in and of itself, made it something of an event.

[Photo: “The Band’s Visit,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2007]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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