Who's in It:
Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri
The Basics: Eight Egyptian musicians, members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, find themselves stranded in the Israeli desert, struggling to get to their next concert at a cultural center. Along the journey they meet new friends and old enemies as the movie comments on the region's long-standing misery. It's kind of like a Middle Eastern version of every other episode of The Partridge Family where the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere and their only hope is a cantankerous old prospector still living in a ghost town. These guys even have matching uniforms.
What's the Deal? Aside from veering into cute-overload territory from time to time, what this it's really good at is balancing the gently comic and the sad. All the characters carry around a burden of inherited cultural grief that seemingly no one in the Middle East can even bring themselves to talk about after decades of senseless war and suffering. It's that sense of "Well, maybe this could get better someday even though it probably won't but wouldn't it be nice if it did?" It trumps any preciousness you might find annoying at first.
Where It Comes From: First feature from Israeli director Eran Kolirin. And you'd think that it would have been the kind of adorable puppy of a foreign-language film the Academy would have picked for a Best Foreign Film nod. But nope. So now it's on its own.
My Favorite Scene: While trying to make a connection with the men, a female restaurant owner talks about how she used to love to watch Egyptian films on television and how the streets would be empty because everyone else was watching the same thing. If melancholy is your favorite flavor then this is where to get it.
Double-Feature It With: Half Moon, the 2007 Kurdish movie about a similar band of musicians on a futile journey. Of course Moon is even more mournful and fatalist than this one, but also incredibly moving and beautiful. And because about 13 people who weren't film critics saw it in this country, I wanted to recommend it again.