In The Band’s Visit (2007) the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra arrives at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel for a concert at a cultural center in Petach Tikva. No one is there to meet them; the arrangements they expect have not been made. A pronunciation mistake when asking for the bus lands them in the obscure town of Beit Hatikva. Stranded there, they seek assistance from a coffee shop owner, who finds them lodging for the night. The film follows the individual band members’ attempts to be good guests, as they interact with Israelis who have their own troubles. It is a quiet little film that engages with issues of hope and despair, youth and aging, love and loneliness.
The dialogue in the film is largely in English, since that is the language the band members and the Israelis have in common. There is also some dialogue in Arabic and Hebrew, with subtitles.
The Band’s Visit won 8 awards out of 13 nominations for Israeli Film Academy Awards, including Best Film of 2007. It won three awards at Cannes, as well as many other international awards. It was nominated as the Israeli entry for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008, but was disqualified because so much of the dialogue is in English.
Too often Americans, including American Jews, think of the Middle East in terms of stereotypes: Chalutzim [Israeli pioneers] who are valiant and larger-than-life, Israeli soldiers, Arab terrorists, or Arab victims. The Band’s Visit portrays a group of ordinary Israelis and ordinary Egyptian musicians, all of whom are wonderfully human. This is a gentle film full of insight into the human situation.
By the way, while Petach Tikva is a real place (and a very interesting one — check the wikipedia link!) the town of Beit HaTikva in the film is fictional. Its name is ironic: it means “House of Hope.”
For a different Jewish take on this film, check out the review at chizfilm.net.