Stranded in the Israeli desert, the eight Egyptian members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra look a bit like a joke in search of a punch line. If "The Band's Visit" were any other kind of film -- a little more pat, say, and rather less knowing -- these eight souls might quickly transform into mere props in a small-scale sermon about Middle East man's humanity to Middle East man, minus the politics of course. "The Band's Visit," the first feature by the Israeli writer and director Eran Kolirin, flirts recklessly with obviousness, cuteness too. This sweet-and-sour comedy opens with the band, which has traveled to Israel to perform at an Arab cultural center, arriving at an airport without a welcoming committee. Dressed in nearly identical uniforms and smart caps, their nut-brown skin working a vivid, chromatic contrast with the robin's-egg blue of their costumes, the men enter the film in silence, immobilized by professional reserve or perhaps just bewilderment. For the orchestra's unsmiling leader, Tewfiq -- the magnificently sober Sasson Gabai, an Israeli Arab, like the other actors playing the musicians -- the initial lack of a welcome will prove to be only the first bump on an increasingly rough and rutted road.
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