"The Band’s Visit," the first feature from Israeli director Eran Kolirin, was Israel’s Foreign Language Film Oscar submission until the Academy rejected it for having too much English dialogue. The film is about how an Egyptian police force brass band headed for a performance at the opening of an Arab cultural center ends up in the wrong town in Israel, and there’s a lot of English because it’s the only language the townspeople and the band members have in common. That a film that’s actually about cross-cultural confusion and communication gets disqualified from the category makes the idea of a "foreign language film" prize even sillier — are subtitles really the end goal? Anyway, much love all round from our crowd of critics.
"[W]hat Kolirin achieves is–given our current hit-you-over-the-head cinematic climate–just about remarkable: a tender, poignant allegory for Arab-Israeli tensions that never makes a single overt gesture toward articulating its larger concerns," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "In the hands of another filmmaker, that same basic set-up might have made for an overly earnest exercise in getting to know thy former enemy" adds Scott Foundas at the LA Weekly. "But Eran Kolirin, the 34-year-old writer-director of The Band’s Visit, has a sense of humor as dry as Bet Hatikva’s arid desert wind and is too smart to bore us with ham-fisted humanistic bromides." Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club finds that "[t]onally, The Band’s Visit steps gingerly on the line between ‘sweetly humane’ and ‘cloyingly quirky,’ but Kolirin pulls back the reins just enough, maintaining control by expressing as much with his framing as with his script."
At Salon, Andrew O’Hehir also suggests the film is worth sticking with through a seemingly sickly set-up, finding that it "has an irresistible tragic and romantic undertow," and that in the end, all the band’s "encountered along the way is a few people and a few moments; almost nothing, really, but enough to suggest an entirely different world." "[T]he comedy eases you into the story and obscures the currents of seriousness swirling under the film’s surface," notes Manohla Dargis at the New York Times. Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly lauds that way that "something marvelous happens as the filmmaker, in his first feature, expertly metes out small scenes of communication between people taught, for generations, to be wary of one another: This Band swings with the rhythms of hope." "’The Band’s Visit’ remains an astute crowd-pleaser without sacrificing its core emotional honesty," finds Michael Koresky at indieWIRE, while Anthony Lane at the New Yorker writes that "what [Kolirin] has conjured up is not some cloying, heal-the-world paean to political harmony but a meditation… on the tough art of rubbing along."