From Jan ’08 Spotlight: Across the ocean, Israeli filmmakers found themselves unexpectedly embroiled an in Oscar controversy of their own this year. The Israel Film Academy gave its 2007 Ophir Award for Best Feature Film to The Band’s Visit, a droll little comedy about an Egyptian military band stranded in a mythical Negev development town called “Beit Hatikvah” (“House of Hope”) instead of their intended destination of Petah Tikva (“Doorway to Hope”), a large industrial city in central Israel on the north-east edge of Tel Aviv.
According to IFA rules, this should have made The Band’s Visit Israel’s official entry in this year’s Best Foreign Language Film competition. But in order to communicate with the residents of Beit Hatikvah, the Egypt musicians must rely on their minimal command of English, therefore most of the film is in English and only the asides are in Arabic and Hebrew. According to AMPAS rules, The Band’s Visit doesn’t qualify for Best Foreign Language Film, and the IFA was forced to submit its runner up, Beaufort, instead.
I’m not immune to the humble charms of The Band’s Visit, but this may be a blessing in disguise. Many highly-praised filmmakers tried to say something meaningful about “the war on terrorism” in 2007, but they all failed. In the Valley of Elah (directed by Paul Haggis), The Kingdom (directed by Peter Berg), Lions for Lambs (directed by Robert Redford), Redacted (directed by Brian de Palma), Rendition (directed by Gavin Hood), not one was a critical or commercial success. The only film that I felt captured the moment was Beaufort, and I believe Beaufort will endure long after this year’s Oscar controversy has faded from memory.