Israeli director Eran Kolirin's film, The Band's Visit, about a wayward group of Egyptian musicians (the Alexandrian Police Band to be exact) astray in a small Israeli backwater town even the locals aren't too happy to be stuck in, with only the (hopefully) good samaritan aforementioned locals to look to for assistance, just smacks of the forlorn sentimentalism of pining Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki. This film of mistaken stereotypes and hopeful concordance may be well on the outskirts of 2000+ miles away from Kaurismäki's native milieu, but the characters in this Arab-Israeli comedy of manners could easily be deposited smack dab in the middle of any Kaurismäki film you choose and no one would be any the wiser - perhaps not even Kaurismäki.
Deadpanned and dry-witted, Kolirin's film, though having many of the same themes and qualities as a Kaurismäki work (i.e. humans getting along with other humans in the most sardonic of worlds), reeks also of an over-sentimentality that Kaurismäki himself mostly manages to avoid in his own rather lachrymose works, and that my friends is both a crime and a crying shame, especially with the potential for such a solemn hilarity right in its grasp. Sort of Kaurismäki without the fresh acidity. Kaurismäki sans the quaint austerity. It is Kaurismäki without the requisite pull back from the precipice, allowing a streak of unneeded (and unwanted?) sentimentalism to sneak its way into an otherwise subtle take on strangers acting strangely in a strange land.
Korilin does manage to incite moments of legitimate sentiment, especially between the two (almost) romantic leads as they weave back and forth between desire and pity, and in doing so, unlike Kaurismäki and his spectral distancing, creates something close to real out of what is otherwise surreal. Yet outside of that, The Band's Visit is merely generic throughout, mostly pandering to the whims of the expectantly sedentary middle-brow arthouse audience who think they're so hip but who are usually sent packing by anything overtly different or even minutely daring, and in being so, we are left with cliche'd situations, obvious altercations and even more obvious outcomes to said altercations.
Pushing the envelope on both sweetness and generalizations, Kolirin's film, deadpanny as it may be, sinks (almost) too many times in the mire of sticky syrup to be considered anything but a valiant effort by a still budding director, but thanks to a cast of wonderfully tableaux'd faces (including the ever vibrant Ronit Elkabetz as the sexy light-in-a-storm saviour of the waylaid band) all quite comically morose in their own individual ways, a somewhat enjoyable, if not a bit saturated, valiant effort it ends up being. [03/30/08]