I loved Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and The Butterfly when I read it almost ten years ago, so I was quite reluctant to see the film adaptation, even though I’d heard that it was directed by Julian Schnabel. The movie arrived via Netflix on Friday and…it’s incredible. Schnabel does what so few directors are capable of doing when it comes to adaptations of novels, which is to say, translate literary language into visual language. What a beautiful film.
So last Saturday, we braved traffic on the 405 to go see The Band’s Visit. It’s about a small Egyptian orchestra that arrives in Israel for a performance, but instead finds itself stranded in the desert, in the remote town of Beit Hatikva. All right, so you have to suspend disbelief for this one, considering Egyptians and Israelis aren’t going to be performing in each other’s countries anytime soon. Anyway, the band has no money and no place to stay, and Tewfiq the conductor (Sasson Gabai) is a grouch. One of the film’s running gags is that Tewfiq persists in referring to the band as the Alexandria Municipal Classical Orchestra, and no one has any idea what he’s saying. Eventually, the band is taken in for the night by a restaurant owner named Dina (played by the lovely Ronit Elkabetz). The Egyptians don’t speak Hebrew, the Israelis don’t speak Arabic, so everyone speaks broken English. I thought the story was a bit thin and the director, Eran Kolirin, tried to be cute, but for some reason I was charmed by the film. (And I don’t do cute. Go figure.) My favorite line in the movie is when Dina asks Tewfiq why he still plays Umm Kulthum, and he answers, “This is like asking a man why he has a soul.”
(Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics. You can view the trailer on YouTube.)
The Levantine Center is a Los Angeles-based organization that brings the arts, literatures, and films of the Middle East and North Africa to American audiences. It regularly puts together wonderful events (some of which I’ve written about in this space) and now they are in need of your support. This month, a generous donor has offered to match every pledge up to $10,000, so every penny you give the Levantine Center will be doubled. Please: Reach out for that checkbook or credit card and go here.