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Short Takes

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THE BAND’S VISIT Heavily accented English (don’t worry, there are subtitles throughout) is the only common tongue shared by the characters of Israeli writer-director Eran Kolirin’s highly impressive debut feature, in which the members of an Egyptian policemen’s orchestra find themselves waylaid in an Israeli backwater town after taking the wrong bus to a concert. The musicians earn the sympathy of a brassy cafe owner (Ronit Elkabetz) who arranges for the men to spend the night as the lodgers of a few not-entirely-willing friends and neighbors—the very Israelis whose forefathers fought the Egyptians’ forefathers for three decades. In the hands of many another filmmaker, the basic setup would have made for an earnest exercise in getting to know thy former enemy. But Kolirin is too smart to bore us with ham-fisted humanistic bromides, and has a sense of humor as dry as desert wind. Yes, The Band’s Visit is touching and uplifting and all those other audience-friendly emotions against which film critics are believed to religiously steel themselves. But it merely plucks at your heartstrings rather than yanking on them, and leaves you filled with an elating sense of possibility. Elkabetz, the sultry star of the 2001 Israeli import Late Marriage, is remarkable, as is actor Sasson Gabai as the band’s curmudgeonly widower conductor. In English, Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles. —Scott Foundas (Opens Friday at the Belcourt)

DIVA In the spring of 1981, Jean-Jacques Beineix (Betty Blue) unveiled his debut film in Paris: a brash, snazzy thriller about the infatuation of a sullen young deliveryman (Frédéric Andréi) with a reclusive opera diva (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez) and the dizzy dilemmas that ensue. Diva contrived a new sensibility that came to be known as cinéma du look, a Franglais label for the micro-movement of super-stylish, unabashedly romantic pictures made throughout the ’80s. By the time it opened in the U.S., it was a phenomenon. A quarter-century of über-groovy meta-thrillers has blunted the novelty, but Diva’s still a kick. The breezy, harebrained plot spins out from a mix-up over a pair of audio tapes: an opera bootleg made by Jules (Andrei), and the one he discovers in his scooter’s side pocket, stashed there by a prostitute before she was killed for its contents. A crooked police chief dispatches a pair of ineffectual cops to investigate the dead hooker, while sending a goofy thug duo to retrieve the tape. And Beineix keeps going, fearless and foolish, piling extravagance on extravagance. In French with subtitles. —Nathan Lee (Opens Friday at the Belcourt; Lynn Ramey, acting director of Vanderbilt’s film studies program, will introduce the matinee 2 p.m. March 16)

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