The Band's Visit (PG-13) (86 min.) — Israeli screenwriter-director Eran Kolirin crafted a hugely appealing hybrid of political idealism and entertainment value. In either regard, it doesn't disappoint.
The setup is quietly amusing: When Egypt's Alexandria Ceremonial Police Band is asked to play at an Arab cultural center in Israel, they happily agree. Marooned in the middle of nowhere, the band members are parceled out to locals providing them with lodging.
The film centers around the flirtation between band leader Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai) and Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), a local beauty whose brash manner confounds her new friend. Meanwhile, Haled (Saleh Bakri), the band's self-appointed heartthrob, gives his host a lesson in seduction, and Simon (Khalifa Natour) negotiates the emotional minefield of a stranger's marriage.
Like any film set in the Middle East, The Band's Visit is saddled with its share of political baggage — certainly more than its whimsical plot line is suited to carry. It also encountered its share of predictable resistance: Many Arab neighbors have refused to screen the movie or have banned it outright.
One roadblock came as a surprise. The Band's Visit became Israel's automatic entry to the Oscar race, but later, the academy decided the movie contained too much English dialogue to be eligible.
Perhaps it's just as well. Kolirin, after all, manages to resist Oscar-friendly, broad cliches. Though the resulting gentle character sketch may not offer Great Truths About the Middle East, it does provide a series of small truths about the vagaries of human nature.
Jessica Reeves, Chicago Tribune