April 10, 2008

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The Band’s Visit (PG-13)
An Egyptian police band comes to a small dusty town in Israel (accidentally) in The Band’s Visit, a sweet and light little lemon cookie of a movie.

Lieutenant colonel Tawfiq Zacharaya (Sasson Gabai) and his policemen’s ceremonial orchestra are headed to an Arab cultural center somewhere in Israel for a big performance. But a mistake in pronounciation puts them in a place, as one woman tells them, with no Arab culture, no Israeli culture, “no culture at all.” She is Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), the manager of a restaurant that appears to be one of the few signs of life on the sun-baked street where the band, its instruments and its army of roller suitcases find themselves when the bus lets them off. It is too late for another bus and calls to the Egyptian embassy end up with Tawfiq on hold. So, reluctantly, he accepts first lunch and then a place to stay from Dina — who arranges for some of the band members to stay at her restaurant, some with a friend and some at her house. When she picks Khaled (Saleh Bakri), a younger member of the orchestra who uses the line “Do you like Chet Baker?” to woo the ladies, Tawfiq decides to go along to keep an eye on Khaled and finds himself the focus of Dina’s attention. Elsewhere, Simon (Khalifa Natour), a band member with a secret dream of writing a concerto, befriends the family man who takes him in and finds they have many of the same frustrations about life.

And that’s what this movie gives you — a little “bigger meaning of life” and a little cheesy romance, a little jokiness about the discomfort of being a stranger (Egyptian) in a strained place (Israel) and a little “here’s my sad personal story; my isn’t it similar to yours?” The Band’s Visit is a little self-conscious about its “we’re all people underneath”-ness, but it’s never cloying. It is a quiet movie with a dry sense of humor but full of lots of moments of surprising chuckles and even more surprising heart. B

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. Written and directed by Eran Kolirin, The Band’s Visit (also called Bikur Ha-Tizmoret) is an hour and 26 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Sony Pictures Classics.