Photo courtesy Sony Picture Classics
ISRAELI FILMMAKER ERAN KOLIRIN learned the lensing ropes directing for television, but there’s nothing small-screen about his jewel of a debut film, “The Band’s Visit.” After a rapturous reception, it won the jury Coup de Coeur in the “Un Certain Regard” category at Cannes in 2007.

It’s the story of an Egyptian police band stranded in a dusty Israeli town — where there’s “No Arab culture, no Israeli culture. No culture at all,” as the sloe-eyed Ronit Elzabetz, playing a cafe owner and the fulcrum of emotions, says wryly. The film runs the gamut from screamingly funny to heartbreaking, but you never feel the director’s heavy hand; rather, his sharp, benevolent eye takes in everything.

» EXPRESS: How do you feel about the film being bypassed for a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination for having too much English language?
» KOLIRIN: It’s very nice to get awards — very nice, flattering. But I really can’t complain — I won a lot of awards with this movie.

Photo courtesy Sony Picture Classics» EXPRESS: How did the project come about?
» KOLIRIN: It’s hard to trace back exactly how it was all formed. It began with the character — I had the image of a man in a police uniform who sings, and the movie developed from this image.

» EXPRESS: Was the town you shot in really as dismal as it was portrayed?
» KOLIRIN: Not completely. It was a little exaggerated how desolate and forgotten was this town. It’s not a big city, but it’s not as bleak as in the movie.

» EXPRESS: Music drives the story and the relationships among the characters.
» KOLIRIN: Yeah, it’s part of what this movie is about — it is about music, about art and the state of music, and art in the more modernized world.

» EXPRESS: Did you learn from directing for TV?
» KOLIRIN: Of course you learn all the time. You articulate your language; you get more and more direct in what you do. In this sense — just as practice — it’s good directing for television. But sometimes you have to get over some bad habits of television, like having people talking to much.

» EXPRESS: The story is so moving — and so funny — but never sentimental.
» KOLIRIN: It’s funny how the word “sentimental” has become a bad thing

» EXPRESS: I suppose I mean manipulative.
» KOLIRIN: You are supposed to have sentiment towards your characters. … What I tried to do is to have the situation accurate. Just to tell as much in the minimum.

» EXPRESS: Do you consider “The Band’s Visit” a political film?
» KOLIRIN: Yeah, I do. I think everything is political, especially if you put it in the context of Israel and Egypt, you have a certain tension between the spectator and what he expects and what he gets. I also think it addresses politicized questions about Israel assimilating to the culture of the East, how those connections are fading in the more modernized Israel. They are political questions, but not the ones you expect to see in a film.

» Opens Friday in area theaters

Photos courtesy Sony Picture Classics