“The Band’s Visit”- Susan Granger reviews

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The best news out of the Middle East so far this year is this fresh, funny, engaging take on cross-cultural miscommunication.

The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra has been invited to play at the Arab Cultural Center in Israel. It’s an important assignment since budget cuts and internal reorganization have threatened the Egyptian musicians’ very existence.

Dressed in crisp, powder-blue uniforms and observing full military police protocol, they arrive at the Tel Aviv airport with no one to greet them. Unable to contact their Israeli hosts or the Egyptian consulate for help, they board a bus that’s, ostensibly, bound for their destination but, instead, wind up on the barren outskirts of a tiny desert town.

Faced with seven hungry, bewildered men, the stoic orchestra leader, Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai) seeks help from Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), the proprietor of a small cafe. Realizing their plight and the fact that the next bus won’t come until the following day, she not only feeds them but arranges for Tewfiq and his men to stay overnight with her and some of her less-than-hospitable friends. Inevitably, the evening leads to some curious confusion, a bit of chaos and a large measure of compassion – on both sides.

Israeli writer/director Eran Kolirin’s shrewdly imagined characters, full of resonant human feeling, propel the subtle, wryly comedic story. Sultry Ronit Elkabetz, sizzling with sexuality, and Sasson Gabai, poignant as the uptight widower, make an unlikely duo, but the best scene involves ladies’ man Haled’s (Saleh Bakri) gently picaresque encounter in a roller-skating rink.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Band’s Visit” is a droll, charming 9. It’s a shame that a technicality – there is English, as well as Hebrew and Arabic – disqualified it from Oscar contention.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.