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'The Band's Visit'

An Egyptian police band arrives in Israel for a good will visit, attired in powder-blue uniforms that make them look like refugees from a child's toy chest. When their sponsors don't meet them at the airport, they board the wrong bus, and end up stranded in a remote desert town, far from their destination. The proprietor of a local diner helps settle them with local families for the night, with the fit proving haphazard at best, awkward at worst.

And from this intersection of the haphazard and the awkward, armed with gentle humor and serious understatement, Israeli writer-director Eran Kolirin makes a nifty little human comedy. Communication being difficult — the only language the Egyptians and the Israelis share is English, and none of them speaks that well — some scenes are very nearly mimed. There's a lovely bit where the band's ladies' man tries wordlessly to help a skittish, inexperienced Israeli woo a painfully shy young woman — a scene as delicate and sweet as something out of Chaplin.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.