Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Katzman’s Cinema Komments # 11 – 3/22/08

Filed under: Humor,Jewish Themes,Katzman's 13 Vintage Movie Reviews,Katzman's Cinema Komments — Bob at 2:43 pm on Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Purim!!

In honor of that wonderfully convoluted  Babylonian Soap Opera, involving Queen Esther or rather, Hadassah, before she Babylonized her name; Mordicai, Esther’s good and watchful uncle, who uncovered and loyally reported the dastardly plot to kill the King to the governing authorities; Haman, the hated, conniving and vain prime minister to the Persian King Ahkashveyrosh (Jewish version) or King Nebuchadnezzar II (their version)  or King Xerxes I (another version) who was the capricious, resolute (and plagued with insomnia) Ruler of all he surveyed. 

Fortunately for present day Jews, the King thought shapely Esther was the hottest chick of all the many women from the King’s Empire, who paraded before him to audition for the position of the Queen.  I imagine the most  common position of the auditioning women was: Missionary. 

It’s good to be the King.

In any event, I decided to celebrate by spreading the very good word about the new Israeli-made movie, Bikur Ha-Tizmoret or The Band’s Visit (2007).  However, even though all of its dialogue is spoken in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic and English and the movie is entirely filmed in Israel in what appeared to me to be the dry and desolate Negev in Southern Israel, the film was nevertheless rejected by the geniuses at the Academy of Arts and Sciences as an acceptable candidate for an Oscar for the best Foreign Film Award because they decided it wasn’t “foreign” enough!

This movie, by the way, was made possible by Cyrus the Great, the Persian King who released the Israelites from their 47 year exile in Babylonia in 539 B.C., after the great Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C. by his Dad (above) and the surviving Jews were taken as captives.  

Without his kindness and generosity, The Band’s Visit movie wouldn’t have been made and for certain, I wouldn’t be reviewing it.

The movie’s simple story is about an Egyptian Police Ceremonial Band being invited to celebrate the opening of an Arab cultural center in a small town in Israel, and becoming lost along the way in the wrong desert town for a period of one day, before friendly Israelis who befriended them send them on their way to the correct town.  That’s the whole premise.


The eight members of the band, who are of various ages, are all wearing bright baby-blue uniforms with gold braid, and are led by the sixtyish and extremely formal band’s leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Tewfiq Zacharya (Sasson Gabai). 

I have read elsewhere that all eight actors portraying the band members are actually Israeli citizens of Iraqi or Jordanian descent, who had to learn to speak Arabic with an Egyptian accent to make them appear authentically Egyptian.  

Not something that might appear to be a problem that would occur to most filmmakers in the rest of the world, but significant in Israel, even though the movie is barred from playing in any of the surrounding Arab countries.  Such a shame.  The film is wonderful, and fair to all involved.

The female lead in The Band movie, and the reason I’m writing about this widely-reviewed movie at all, is Ronit Elkabetz, 42, and born in Beersheba, Israel in 1966.  She is amazing as an actress, to me at least.  She portrays Dorit, the owner of a small cafe in the town the Band mistakenly wanders into, believing it is their correct destination.

Although there are about a dozen players in this little comedy/drama, only a few play major parts.  Ronit is the cynical but welcoming woman who invites the Band’s members to stay the night, parceling them out to various friends of hers.

Although initially apprehensive about accepting Dorit’s aid to them, the Band stiff leader Tewfiq, realizes that they have missed the last bus out of the remote town and have nowhere else to stay or any food to eat.  So he relents and agrees to accept the very amused Dorit’s hospitality to house his band members.  Two of them end up staying with her.  She is both single and childless and lives in a shabby apartment complex.

The other significant player in the film is the tall, young, suave and attractive Band member Haled (Salah Bakri), who is the other person who stays overnight with Dorit besides the Band’s leader.  More on him later.

 Ronit Elkabetz is an electric performer whose face is a symphony of expressions, emotions, and silent communication.  I have rarely seen an actress who transmits so much without saying a word.  Her dark and beautiful eyes send conflicting messages from the words she is speaking.  Her shoulders ought to be paid separately as supporting actors, because they are essential in assisting her remarkable face to establish the tone of all the scenes she’s in.

Ronit is not necessarily a transcendent beauty in the western sense of the word.  While I found her to be very attractive, and no, not just because she’s an Israeli Jewish actress, with her very long black hair, which falls to the middle of her back, her tall and erect posture and her slim figure, with minimal Hollywood-required cleavage and her lush and appealing hips,  she would not be a leading player as a femme fatal in any Western movie (a mistake).

I marveled as she managed to effortlessly convey believable sensuousness, coquettishness, beauty and desirability, and almost instantly switch to hopelessness, despair, exhaustion, emotional deflation, and defeat.  She is funny, sarcastic, confident, casual, generous, sexy, exasperated, emotionally desperate, lonely and hopeful–from minute to minute.

The woman is an encyclopedia of acting and the film’s treasure.  If the movie were silent, Ronit would still be a reason to go see it.  She appeared in an interesting earlier Israeli movie I saw called Hatuna Meuheret, or Late Marriage (2001) with a man named Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi).  She plays a divorced woman with a child who was having an affair with the single, and younger, Zaza, who is of Russian-Georgian Jewish descent, a distinct culture from Eastern European Jewry. 

In that film, Ronit displays all of her charms–and she has many charms– with utter abandon.  She is only on screen a short time, but I still easily remember her from that seven-year-old movie.  You would, too.

The other reason to see The Band’s Visit is an indelibly moving scene in the small town’s skating rink.  Haled is hanging around with a couple of Israelis, passing the time, going wherever they go.  He is handsome and confident, but not flirting or really interacting much with his hosts.  He is just there, silent and pleasant.

So, the moment that captured me, the way the Israeli captured Jerusalem in 1967 (when Ronit was just one year old) is when the short, shleppy, unshaven, unattractive and introspective guy Kaled is assigned to accompany on the guy’s double date, whom I’ll call Dov, is unhappy with his half of the double date, who is the cousin of the more vivacious and attractive other young girl.  He calls her “Grumpy.”  The cousin doesn’t speak.  Haled notices all this.

Late in the movie, after Dov has confessed his total lack of experience with women to a sympathetic Haled, who at the same time poetically expresses his own success with them, there is a moment when all three of these people are sitting on a bench.

Grumpy on the left, Dov in the middle and Haled on the right.

Haled silently conveys to Dov that he should stop ignoring Grumpy and shows him how to initiate his interest to the young girl, who is at the same time quietly weeping.  Dov initially resists, but then allows Haled to demonstrate his method for attracting the girl’s attention.  Dov then puts Haled’s one-handed action into motion upon Grumpy, who notices, but still remains silent.

Then, in an increasingly funny and touching scene, Haled acts as the guy while using Dov as the girl, to show Dov what to do next.  It is heartbreakingly moving to see the girl waiting for the clueless Dov’s next move.   Finally, Dov gets it, and turns to embrace the weeping girl, while Haled watches approvingly from the right side of the bench.

Later, Haled somewhat improves Israeli and Egyptian interpersonal ‘relations’, to desperately lonely Dorit’s relief,’ though far more discreetly than in the older and explicit Late Marriage movie.

I love this movie.  Broaden your horizons.  See this sweet foreign movie quickly, because it will be gone in the blink of an eye.  Video just ain’t the same, in my opinion.

See you, under the Flickering Lights…

Robert M. Katzman


Note from the Author:


Robert M. Katzman, owner of Fighting Words Publishing Company, with four different titles currently in print and over 4,000 books sold to date, is seeking more retail outlets for his vivid and non-fiction inspirational books: 


Independent bookstores, Jewish and other religious organizations, Chicago historical societies or groups, English teachers who want a new voice in their class who was a witness to history, book clubs, high schools or museum gift shops.  I will support anyone who supports me by giving readings in the Chicago Metro area.  I have done this over 40 times, and I always sign my books, when asked.  Everyone, positively everyone, asks.  I was amazed, at first, by that.


Individuals who wish to order my books can view the four book covers and see reviews of them at www.FightingWordsPubco.com 


There are links to YouTube and podcasts, as well.  Or, anyone can call me directly at (847) 274-1474.  Googling my name will also produce all kinds of unusual results.  That other Robert M. Katzman, now deceased, whose name will also appear and who also published, was a doctor.  He actually bought one of my books!  Such a nice man.  Rest in peace, Dr. Katzman.


There will be short poems, stories and essays published in this space every two weeks by either myself or my co-blogist Richard G. Munden, or both.  If you find our postings thought provoking, moving or even amusing, please tell others to come view this site.  We will find our strength in your numbers.


 Next year, I will publish my fifth book, a collection of my best poetry and essays, called,


        I Seek the Praise of Ordinary Men


Individuals who know of independent bookstores that might be interested in a rough-hewn guy like me, who ran a chain of newsstands for 20 years in Chicago, please tell them about my books, will you?  I am partial to independent bookstores, having owned two, myself, until my last one was killed by the giant chains, in 1994. I still miss it. 


I’m also looking to find someone who would want to make a play out of some of my stories in the Chicago area, so I could go there and do some readings sometimes.  I think there’s enough honest sex, drugs and rock n’ roll to hold anyone’s interest, as well as a lot of authentic dialogue from ordinary people in extraordinary situations.  I think the plays would work anywhere, frankly, in some intimate theater with talented actors.



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