Like many popular Israeli films, military life is placed front and center in “The Last Band in Lebanon.” But the similarities end there. The 2016 hit comedy follows three military band reservists who reunite for one last gig — only to find out they have been left behind as the Israeli army pulled out of Lebanon.
The Aug. 22 screening of this hit comedy at the Avalon Theater was part of its Reel Israel DC program, a partnership with the Israeli Embassy that brings the best of sabra cinema to the Connecticut Avenue establishment. The next film in the series, scheduled for Oct. 24, is “The Testament,” a critically acclaimed 2017 drama.
A deal for a Hollywood remake of “The Last Band,” replacing Lebanon with Iraq, was announced in May. American moviegoers should be eager to see if the acclaimed comedy can make an equally successful “reverse aliyah.”
Everything Goes South
In the Middle East, chances are that someone is after you: a terror organization, a foreign army, and sometimes even your own army commander. This is the predicament of the trio at the heart of “The Last Band in Lebanon,” Itzik Kricheli and Ben Bachar’s 2016 blockbuster.
The plot starts with a scene reminiscent of the American film “The Hangover,” as the three former bandmates, Shlomi (Ofer Hayoun), Kobi (Ofer Shechter), and Assaf (Ori Laizerouvich) wake up in an empty base, unsure of what happened. As they trace the chain of events, we learn of the individual and collective stories surrounding the ordeal.
The movie does put its faith in an absurdist, happy-go-lucky type of comedy that might seem outdated. But the team behind “The Last Band” masterfully slips quite a bit of perspective under the momentary gags that keep the plot going.
Considering the cast, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. In addition to the perennial entertainer Schechter, Leizerovich of television hit “Shababnikim” fame, and a trustworthy Hayoun, the film also features a cameo from cult funnyman Israel Katorza and a screenplay from Uri Halevy, who was responsible for several successful early 2000s films and television shows.
Together, this band imbues viewers with near-unstoppable laughter. Shlomi, Kobe, and Assaf run into countless hopeless situations along the way: a drug operation gone awry, Hezbollah hunt-down and South Lebanon Army intrigue, and even a “high-speed” donkey-and-buggy chase scene.
Of course, it also helps that “The Last Band in Lebanon” features a soundtrack that lives up to its musically inclined title. While references to such cult tracks as Zohar Argov’s “Haperach Begani” (The Flower in My Garden), Ariel Zilber’s “Be’diavad” (In Retrospect), and others might escape most of the American audience, they add to the movie’s merry and authentic feel.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
“The Last Band in Lebanon’s” kaleidoscopic turn of events gently presents many truisms typical to the Middle East: a natural suspicion between opposing groups, followed by endearing humanity and unexpected generosity; borderline racism followed by melting-pot conglomeration; a fluid existence spanning the gap between Judaism and Islam, Hebrew and Arabic.
The film eventually boils down to one main point — everybody is just trying to get by. This might mean different things to Nabil and Said, the two Hezbollah hopefuls, or to the crooked IDF commander Alon Nishri. But even after all the tense moments, the entire band comes together for one last hurrah.
With plenty of funny moments complemented by a thoughtful underlying script, “The Last Band in Lebanon” is a recommended watch for anyone looking to immerse themselves in Israeli culture without all the drama.
By Anis Modi
Anis Modi is a staff reporter for Kol HaBirah. Born and raised in Israel, he currently writes for several DC-based publications while pursuing his master’s degree at American University.