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Lost, Artfully, in Israel: 'The Band's Visit'

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A new film from Israel is called "The Band's Visit." It's making news for not getting an Oscar nomination as Best Foreign Film. It was disqualified because it had too much English in the dialogue.

L.A. Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan says the film was so good, it's likely it would've won.

KENNETH TURAN: "The Band's Visit" doesn't do the expected. It's a film from Israel that delivers much of its dialogue in English. It's sweet-natured and sharply pointed. The heroes are a group of Egyptians, the eight members of the Alexandria police ceremonial orchestra. They've been invited to play at an Arab cultural center in Israel. No one, however, has thought to meet them at the airport.

A language mix-up gets the band sent by mistake to a tiny town in the desert. When the Egyptians wander up to a deserted snack bar dressed in their elaborate police uniforms, a slacker local yells inside for the proprietor. Hey, Dina, some general wants to talk to you. It's Dina who tells Tawfiq, the band's reserved leader exactly what's what.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Band's Visit")

Ms. RONIT ELKABETZ (As Dina): There is no (unintelligible) here.

Mr. SASSON GABAI (As Tawfiq): No concert (unintelligible)?

Ms. ELKABETZ: No. No concert, no (unintelligible), no concert at all.

Mr. GABAI: (unintelligible)

TURAN: No buses available to take the Egyptians to the correct town until the next day. So the band is forced to spend the night in this great, wrong place.

English is the only thing the Egyptians and the Israelis have in common, including an unexpected version of a George Gershwin classic.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Band's Visit")

(Soundbite of song, "Summertime")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Your daddy's rich and your mommy's good looking. So hush little baby, don't you cry.

TURAN: Dina and Tawfiq are the film's odd couple, with a whiskey voice and a been-around stance, Dina is nobody's fool. But she's clearly intrigued by Tawfiq's courtly formality, so different from the loudishness of her surroundings.

Nothing cataclysmic happens during the band's visit to this god-forsaken Israeli hamlet, but by the time the visit is over, people have been genuinely touched by their gently eccentric experiences. And, to our surprise, we have as well.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and The Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan
Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.