This heartwarming and poignant winner of the Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard prize is the mesmerizing and witty story of strangers in a strange land. A fading Egyptian police band arrives in Israel to play at the Arab Cultural Center. When they take the wrong bus, the band members find themselves in a desolate Israeli village. With no other option than to spend the night with the local townspeople, the two distinctly different cultures realize the universal bonds of love, music and life. Set against a breathtaking desert landscape, this cross-cultural comedy proves that getting lost is sometimes the best way to find yourself.
Can movies change the world? In a word, no. But Israeli writer and director Eran Kolirin's utterly charming and engaging The Band's Visit suggests that if we could somehow put aside the politics and the religion, stifle the governments and the rhetoric, and mix in a little Gershwin, maybe even people with a history of cross-cultural suspicion and hostility really can get along. Not that the film has such pretensions--far from it. This is a simple tale involving a group of Egyptian musicians, the Alexandria Police Ceremonial Orchestra, who arrive in Israel for a concert. Things don't go well; there's no one to meet them at the airport, and they mistakenly end up in a small, drab desert town called Bet Hatikva, a place whose own residents refer to it as "bloody nowhere." But the people, especially café owner Dina (a marvelous performance by Ronit Elkabetz), are friendly and welcoming, and when they urge the band members to stay overnight before heading to their proper destination the next day, strait-laced leader Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai) finally relents. What follows is a series of plain but lovely scenes, as the Egyptians and Israelis (speaking English, their common language) tentatively search for common ground. Khaled (Saleh Bakri), the ladies man of the group ("Do you like Chet Baker?" is his favorite pick-up line), accompanies two young couples to a roller rink, where he comically helps the painfully timid Papi (Shlomi Avraham) connect with his date; meanwhile, the dignified but taciturn Tewfiq gradually warms to Dina's manifest charms, and the other musicians share a rousing chorus of "Summertime" with their Israeli hosts. The Band's Visit is filled with moments of humor, tenderness, tension, sadness, regret, and, as one character puts it, "tons of loneliness," every one of them delivered without the slightest bit of pretension or manipulation (not to mention political or religious overtones). And when, at the end, we finally hear the Orchestra perform, we only wish we could spend more time with all of these delightful characters. --Sam Graham
Stills from The Bands Visit (click for larger image)