Forget all that, it's some other movie. This one is free and clear of anything set, routine, obvious, predictable. "The Band's Visit" is about people - mostly awkward, all real, well- and ill-behaved in turn - and not about agenda, ideology, politics. It's an unsentimental "people movie" (remember when Hollywood used to churn those out?), enormously likable, a treasurehouse of humanism.
"Visit" is also a film you have to work with. It's not dumped on the audience in its fullness by its writer and (first-time) director, Eran Kolirin. Action is slow or nonexistent, dialogue is halting, silences are rampant. And yet it all works so well: even if you have never heard Egyptian music, when the band finally plays (as the end-credits roll), you're guaranteed to groove on it.
Kolirin is a writer and director of great economy. The characters of and relationships between the eight band members - in their powder blue, Sgt. Pepper-wannabe, uniforms are revealed through a word here, an expression there, and pretty soon, you really know them... except that later you realize you didn't.
The head of the band, Tewfig, is an officious, prissy, downcast, silent figure, and yet as the camera stays on him a great deal of the time, slowly you are getting used to him, and when he finally puts together a couple of full sentences, you may feel acceptance and even appreciation.
It is at this point, far into the movie, that you understand why Dina is pursuing him. Dina is the attractive - if blowsy - owner of a small cafe in the Israeli desert town where the band is stranded. There is much, much more to "Visit," but just watching the Tewfig-Dina story, and reveling in the performances of the two actors, is well worth the price of admission.
The band leader is Sasson Gabal, and I must admit being incredulous finding out after seeing the movie that he is a famous Israeli actor. Not only does he appear authentically Egyptian, but when starts singing an Arabic song - oy! Dina is Ronit Elkabetz, an actor so fine that you'd never suspect her of being one; what you see on the screen is the character, totally believable.
"Visit" is a rare film, one that keeps running in your mind long after the band strikes up.