The Band’s Visit

Rated 4.0

An Egyptian police band wanders the Israeli desert in search of an Arab cultural center and winds up in the very obviously wrong town. Sounds like a great setup for a lousy Mel Brooks movie. Thankfully, Israeli writer-director Eran Kolirin’s feature-film debut is something else. While the band collectively excels at exaggeratedly long deadpan reaction shots à la Napoleon Dynamite, its stiff-backed and stubbornly decorous leader (Sasson Gabai) shyly embarks on an almost-romance with the cafe manager (Ronit Elkabetz) who offers the accidental minstrels a night’s lodging. Elkabetz is amazing to watch, and her earthy, easygoing sensuality gives the movie its pulse; Gabai’s gallant response gives it motion. Through these and other glints of characterization, Kolirin says something sweet, if pat, about cultural conflict—and leaves us to imagine that the criminals back in Alexandria must have a field day there: These must be the gentlest, most sensitive cops in the world.