Sometimes I get a movie from Netflix, and it just sits there on the table because I’m not in the right mood. Then when I finally get around to watching it, I realize that it is just the right movie at the right time. I’m sure I would have liked The Band’s Visit anyway, but seeing it this week, it resonated with a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about and feeling.
The Band’s Visit is a small, unpretentious film about an Egyptian police band that arrives in Israel for the opening of a new Arab cultural center. The eight men get on the wrong bus and end up stranded in a small town in the desert. To even call it a town is a stretch; it’s really just a clump of ugly apartment buildings rising up in the middle of nowhere. The band spends the night among the locals, and then they leave in the morning to play their concert. It’s so simple, but in the course of the night, these individuals find a little bit of common ground. Their loneliness is eased, or at least it’s shared and understood by someone else.
Even though this film is in three different languages, it really takes place in the quiet spaces between the words. One of the funniest and most touching sequences happens at a cheesy roller disco. One of the band members has invited himself along on a local’s blind date. This local guy can’t skate, he’s awkward around girls, and his date ends up sitting next to him crying quietly. Playing Cyrano, the band member coaches the local on how to comfort the girl. He does it by demonstrating, and the local guy mirrors his actions. It’s difficult to describe in words, but delightful to watch on film.
Another one of the band members has never been able to finish a concerto for clarinet that he’s written. He plays it for a local man who’s struggling with his marriage. After they spend some time together in his home with his family, the local tells the band member, “Maybe this is how your concerto ends. I mean, not a big end with trumpets and violins. Maybe this is the finish, just like that, suddenly. Not sad, not happy. Just a small room, with a lamp, a bed, a child sleeps, and tons of loneliness.”
This naturally reminds me of what Thoreau expressed when he wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation….” I’ve been thinking this week about loneliness and isolation, about how we fail to communicate with others, about how we can be surrounded by people and still be alone. Hardly groundbreaking or original, but what’s important is whether these reflections lead to any positive action. In the week ahead, I’m going to try to shut up and listen. To reach out to the people around me in a deeper and more meaningful way. To try to recognize the loneliness and pain in others. In other words, I’m going to take a visit outside of myself and have a good look around. I will report back what I find.