A review of “The Band's Visit” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. In Arabic, Hebrew and English with English subtitles



Ethnic tensions take a backseat to human kindness in this charming Israeli indie.

The Alexandria Police Ceremonial Orchestra is stuck. Invited to speak at the opening of an Arab Cultural Center, the orchestra unexpectedly find themselves stranded in an Israeli desert town with little money, no lodging and no transportation.

The band’s leader (Sasson Gabai as Tewfiq) is a proud man who insists that his group of law enforcement musicians conduct themselves with propriety, even when faced with the disdain of a motley assortment of locals led by sultry café owner Dina (the gorgeous Ronit Elkabetz).

When Dina offers to put the band up for the night, divvying them up between neighboring homes, Tewfiq struggles to maintain decorum but has no choice but to accept.

That solitary evening is the backbone of this sweet and poignant import that speaks understated volumes about Israeli-Arab relations. The fish-out-of-water card is played with dignity and wit as racial intolerance is sidestepped in search of a comfortable middle ground.

Dina and Tewfiq embody the emotional core, cautiously constructing a gentle bond based on shared hurts and histories. Underscored by a profound and almost painful sense of longing.

Imagery is striking – the darkly handsome, uniformed in powder-blue Egyptians set against the stark Israeli countryside, an unforgiving landscape that speaks to Middle Eastern hardship and more deeply to the cultural divide.

Sweet moments – a ragtag dinner table chorus of “Summertime” and a dulcet trumpet solo of Chet Baker’s “My Funny Valentine” -- work wonders but edge perilously close to cute.

Dialogue is spare, in turns tender and awkward yet always with an eye towards the universal language of hope.