Lost but found


By Steven Snyder

A Film Featuring the Universal Languages of Love and Music

It’s their bright blue uniforms that make the Egyptian visitors stand out, leading one Israeli after another to stare in astonishment. Tawfiq (Sasson Gabai) is the conductor of a formal Egyptian police band, a musical group that has traveled to Israel to celebrate the opening of an Arab Cultural Center in the town of Petah Tikva. Difficulties arise after an official escort stands the men up and they find themselves stranded in an unfamiliar country speaking a foreign language.

They ask for directions to Petah Tikva and hours later arrive at the remote outpost of Bet Hatikva. Greeted by Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), the owner of a small café, they soon realize that they have traveled dozens, perhaps hundreds, of miles in the wrong direction, and that there will be no other buses through this area until the following day.

Confused and desperate, the stoic Tawfiq appeals to Dina for help and, along with two loyal customers, she agrees to take the band in for the night.

What’s invigorating about the film is how much it sets out to say by not saying much at all (an opening prologue of sorts intones, “Not many remember this…it wasn’t that important”). In Bet Hatikva, a world away from the tension and the turmoil of Israel’s western border regions, the walls separating these Egyptians and Israelis come tumbling down.

As both groups temporarily abandon their native languages for English – ironically, a decision that has rendered “The Band’s Visit” inadmissible for this year’s Oscar campaign for best foreign film – the plight of the band is overshadowed by the graciousness of their accidental hosts. With the sun setting and with an evening to kill, Tawfiq and his men – chiefly the suave and egocentric ladies’ man Khaled (Saleh Bakri) – are thrown into an array of unexpected scenarios.

One subplot involves Tawfiq, whose casual dinner with Dina turns into something of a date. Another diversion concerns Khaled, who hitches a ride to a local roller rink in the hopes of flirting with girls, but instead finds himself giving dating advice to his newfound Israeli comrade. Consider the film’s universal languages to be music and love.

As the hours tick by, soft music plays in the streets, and an awkward family dinner finds the birthday girl gawking at her three uninvited Egyptian guests. A flurry of inspiration strikes one band member, who for years has failed to finish a composition he wrote for the clarinet.

Over the course of this one evening in rural Israel, nothing remotely political or profound transpires. What we see in Bet Hatikva, so far from the walls, the bulldozers and the suicide bombings, is the potential for political disagreements and misguided assumptions to dissolve when humans open their hearts to one another.

As conversation flows and fear recedes, “The Band’s Visit” offers up a humble note of hope: that the chasm between “them” and “us” may not be so large after all.