Eran Kolirin writes and directs The Band's Visit about Tawfiq, a Egyptian band leader who travels with his band to Petach Tikva, but accidentally ends up in the small town of Bet Hatikva. There, he starts an unlikely romance with Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), a cafť manager who finds a place for him and his band to stay the night. This marks Eran Kolirin's feature directorial debut. This film was ineligible as Israel's entry for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars because it has too many English-language scenes. I had the privilege to interview the very talented Eran Kolirin.
Sony Pictures Classics releases The Band's Visit on February 8th, 2008 at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What inspired you to direct The Bandís Visit?
EK: I was reading a book by Ali Salem, Journey to Israel, and in the first episode he describes how he came by his car. Just from being stressed and for the first time in his life driving in Israel, instead of driving to Tel Aviv, he got to Netanya. Because of this mistake, he describes some of the conversations he had with the girl at the information desk at the hotel, somebody spoke to him about his car, and some not important things that happened to him with this mistake. This was something that something that inspired the movie, also.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did you preface the film with a statement that what happens in it isnít really important?
EK: This movie has a big context and a big political premise, but, on the other hand, it focuses on completely uneventful things.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Is The Bandís Visit actually banned in Egypt?
EK: The film is not banned in Egypt specifically. Thereís a ban in Egypt for any kind of foreign exchange and it doesnít not necessarily [pertain] to [The Bandís Visit] specifically. Any other Israeli films [would be] banned as well.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the most important thing you focused on while directing?
EK: The most important thing for me was the accurate tone and pace. Itís much of an instinctive process than an analytical one. We worked a lot on where to have the silences and the choreography, but thereís also natural coming from the actors.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the most challenging part of filming?
EK: We almost finished all of our film stock. There was a tough period when I almost finished all the raw material, but it worked out okay in the end.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did Sasson Gabai react to playing an Egyptian character?
EK: It was a nostalgic thing for him. He was born in Iraq and speaks Arabic. For him, the themes of the music all resonate from his background.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Was any of the dialogue improvised?
EK: Nothing is improvised. Iím completely a control freak.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Was it a conscious decision to make the film be so funny?
EK: I was completely serious about everything. I was very surprised that everyone was laughing so hard. I thought it was more of a [smile-inducing] movie. One of the reactions I got about the rough cut of the film was that they thought it was going to be a funny movie, but it wasnít. Until we came to Cannes and everyone was laughing, we had no idea that this film was going to be funny.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What other kind of endings did you consider for the film?
EK: I was trying, a lot of times, to push the movie to a more dramatic end. I heard a lot from script experts saying to add more energy, but all those ending didnít feel right for me. It was a lie and, at the end of the day, this story has something in its genetics. Thereís no other ending. Itís the truth of the story itself.