Alexandria of Egypt police’s musical band arrive at Tel Aviv airport, Israel, wearing their blue uniforms. Only some of the eight musicians have an idea of English language. They have been invited by the Arab Cultural Centre to Petah Tikva, where they should play the subsequent evening. They expect to be picked up and taken to their destination, but they don’t find anyone.
So Colonel Tewfik, the band’s director, decides to reach the destination by bus, and sends the young and handsome Haled, trumpeter and violinist, to buy tickets. Haled speaks broken English, and is more interested in the young ticket lady than in the task he was entrusted with. So, after taking the bus, the eight musicians are left in the desert, in the middle of nowhere. Far away they can see some houses that remind them of some working-class district of their cities. Dazed, they move in that direction to ask for information, and they find beautiful Dinah’s restaurant. Here they discover that, due to a speech impediment, they have not reached Petah Tikva, but Bet Hatikva. And that there will be no further bus until the next morning. Forced against their will to stay in the little town, they will live an unforgettable experience, that perhaps will not change their lives, but that will remain in the spectators’ thoughts and emotions.
When Tewfik, before solving the misunderstanding about their destination, asks Dinah where the Arab Cultural Centre is, he is told: « There isn’t any cultural centre here. There is no culture, neither Arab nor Israeli. There’s no culture here». From then on, the plot focuses on the human relations between people of different cultures who, away from everything, instead of fighting try to know and understand each other better, overcoming the limits of their respective origins. There are Israelis who live in squalid places bordering only on the desert, and lost Egyptians who are forced to look for hospitality. Common people are displayed here, beyond the political and religious stereotypes, in their daily routine, in the melancholy of their own lives, in the nostalgia of a different time when, for example, in Israel it was even possible to watch Egyptian movies with Omar Sharif, and Dinah, still a child, would run home with her mother to watch them. And what keeps them together is music, that cancels the cultural and geographic distances; music is the universal glue agent that communicates beyond words. More than English can do, the only language they have in common, but that doesn’t belong to any of them.
The Israeli director Eran Korilin, at his first time in a full-length film, achieves a remarkable debut with a minimalist style that knows how to get into the emotions and the existence of the characters, with no need for intimacy, but with participation. He does it with a style that knows when to focus on drama, on the comic sense of the situations and on feelings with a light, delicate, almost sweet touch. As spectators we enter the story without realizing it, being involved in the events of the characters as if they were our neighbours.
A light and bitter comedy at the same time, that knows how to get a laugh and how to make you meditate, simply talking about being human. And he succeeds without frills and never brushing folklore, showing us, for example, the sense of frustration of the clarinettist Itzik, who has composed an unfinished overture and, every time he performs it, hangs in the melancholy of never bringing it to an end, not knowing how it will ever end; or Haled who teaches an Israeli boy how to impress a woman; or the loneliness of a young Israeli who at night is waiting at a phone box for a call from his girlfriend; and that of an orchestral who, at the same time, is waiting there for an Embassy’s call to give him instructions; or Dinah who, wishing to transmit to Tewfik her desire to tell him “many things”, does it through an Israeli song; or, again, the orchestrals who, at an unwelcomed dinner, find the way to communicate singing “Summertime” together with the house master.
This movie is similar to the unfinished Itzik’s overture: “a concert that suddenly ends, neither sad, nor cheerful”. A choral work that tells about the possibility of a dialogue between Egyptians and Israelis based on a true and forgotten story, never yielding, even for a moment, to rhetoric; and avoiding all the clichés . As the director commented in the direction notes, “we have forgotten the connection between the human beings and the magic of conversation, because our only concern was how big the slice of pie we could get our hands on”. It’s a shame that this little movie, in the Cannes section “Un Certain Regard” and winner of several awards, has been banned in the Arabic Countries.
(Translation by the author with Silvia Accorrà)