The band’s visit

Call myself a film editor: on Monday, I attended my first ever screening at the London Film Festival.

The first thing to mention was the buzz. The venue was the one-screen independent the Phoenix in East Finchley (an excellent little place, that runs interesting screens all day every day and stays open, I think, by the skin of its teeth… well worth a look). It was packed – the foyer thick with people, and with a few more on the sides peering desperately into the crowd to find the people they were meant to be meeting. Having not planned my trip very carefully, I very nearly didn’t get a seat – except the Phoenix has a wooden bench at the back for latecomers. (If you needed proof that they’re great, then there it is).

The second thing to talk about is the film. A French-Israeli co-production entitled The Band’s Visit, it was a bittersweet comedy about an Egyptian police orchestra that ends up in a nowhere’s-ville town in Israel due to a pronunciation error. Arab-Jewish conflict provides a little background tension but it’s never developed: instead, this is a film all about pride, and how difficult it is to be proud when you’re wearing a spangly uniform and you’re quite clearly lost. Forced to spend the night with locals, the orchestra find themselves on the awkward end of a host of lonely oddballs. The result was an expressive comedy that crossed language barriers without difficultly. Whereas a lot of comedy is firmly rooted in a cultural context, that of misfortune and pride seems to be universal.

The crowd, needless to say, loved it, and perhaps that’s the point of the film festival. Pay your money, go in, and celebrate great, unusual, different films. Then come out and talk about them.

Only next time, I’m going to be early and book ahead…

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