| Terminal loneliness and the longing for human companionship lie at the heart of this sweet motion picture. Audiences become acquainted with endearing, quirky characters who make an indelible impression.
The movie opens with the arrival of a small Egyptian police brass band at Israel’s main airport. They have been invited to play at the initiation ceremony of an Arab culture center. But nobody comes to greet them and transport them to their destination.
Tewfiq Zakaria (Sasson Gabai) is the shy commander of this stiff and formal group. He has a small, neatly trimmed mustache and wears eyeglasses that are constantly taken off and on for dramatic effect. He sends Khaled (Saleh Bakri), a tall and handsome ladies’ man who plays the trumpet and violin, to a nearby information booth to inquire about ground transportation.
The group rides a bus and is dropped off in the middle of the Negev Desert near a fast-food diner.
Dina (Ronit Elkabetz of “Late Marriage”) is the outgoing, self-assured owner. She informs them that there is neither Arab nor Israeli culture anywhere in the vicinity.
The band’s concert is not scheduled until the next night. Because there are no more buses that day, nor hotels, Dina and her curious assistant, Itzik, invite the band to stay with them in their separate abodes.
The comedic timing is pitch perfect with a combination of subtle humor and hilarious, laugh-out-loud realistic situations.
The importance of music and the arts in our lives is underscored. This shared enjoyment brings people from different cultures together to learn about each other and themselves.
The pleasing soundtrack of eclectic tunes includes “My Funny Valentine” and “Summertime.”
Elkabetz is fantastic in this showcase role, employing her expressive eyes and charm to great effect. Gabai, by way of contrast, evinces polite restraint and dignity. Bakri has some precious moments in the spotlight.
The dusty and windy location is supposedly typical of many forgotten towns in Israel characterized by high unemployment and a pervasive sense of boredom.
This movie was Israel’s initial pick to compete for this year’s Oscar in the foreign film category, but was disqualified because more than 50 percent of the dialogue is in English, as opposed to Arabic or Hebrew. But realistically, how else would one expect Israelis and Egyptians to communicate with each other?
Writer-director Eran Kolirin has hit a grand-slam homer in his first cinematic endeavor. The movie was awarded the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar for best film, best director, best screenplay, best music and best costumes. The acting triumvirate of Gabai, Elkabetz and Bakri won awards for best actor, actress and supporting actor. Numerous audience awards have been bestowed on this film at festivals held in Cannes, Jerusalem, Montreal, Munich, Zurich, Warsaw and Tokyo.
This movie offers further proof of how much alike we are, regardless of religious or ethnic background. As my grandfather would often remark, “The whole world is one city.”
This superlative movie runs the gamut of emotions while plumbing the depths of character development. Wonderful acting, direction and editing make the 86-minute running time pass by in the blink of an eye. Partially in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles.
Keith Cohen, The Movie Guy