The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, consisting of eight men, arrive in Israel from Egypt. They have been booked by an Arab cultural center in Petah Tikva, but through a miscommunication (Arabic has no "p" sound, and regularly replaces it with "b"), the band takes a bus to Beit Hatikva, a fictional town in the middle of the Negev Desert. There is no transportation out of the city that day, and there are no hotels for them to spend the night in. The band members dine at a small restaurant where the owner, Dina (Ronit Elkabetz) invites them to stay the night at her apartment, at her friends' apartment, and in the restaurant. That night challenges all of the characters.
Sasson Gabai's characterization and playing of Tawfiq Zacharya was hailed by the critics, who described him as "an actor of real skill, and an artist capable of the deepest understanding of the human condition." During the Israeli Film Academy Awards Ceremony in September 2007, Saleh Bakri, "the band's handsome young trumpet player" thanked his parents and said, "I want to thank my father, who taught me to love mankind, and my mother, who taught me to bear the burden of life in this country and stand strong," he said.
For her role in the movie, critics described Ronit Elkabetz as "wonderful...a kind-hearted lonely heart refusing to wilt in her desert town". During the Israeli Film Academy Awards Ceremony in September 2007, Elkabetz brought a message of reconciliation and hope, and after taking a bow before the film's director, she said to him, "You reminded us of a thing or two that we have already managed to forget. You showed us what would happen if we would stand before each other, Jews and Arabs and look each other in the eye."
The Band's Visit was well received by critics. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 98% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 108 reviews, and gave it a golden tomato for best foreign film of 2008.
Ray Bennett of The Hollywood Reporter named the film the second best of 2007, V.A. Musetto of the New York Post named it the 8th best film of 2007, and both Ella Taylor of LA Weekly and Associated Press film critic David Germain named it the 9th best film of 2007. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times selected it as one of the 20 best films of 2008.
According to Roger Ebert, "The Band’s Visit has not provided any of the narrative payoffs we might have expected, but has provided something more valuable: An interlude involving two “enemies,” Arabs and Israelis, that shows them both as only ordinary people with ordinary hopes, lives and disappointments. It has also shown us two souls with rare beauty."
The skating rink scene is considered a highlight of the film: "The band's handsome young trumpet player, Khaled, who idolizes jazz icon Chet Baker, encounters the resident Papi (Shlomi Avraham, שלומי אברהם), an Israeli nebbish and accompanies him on a blind date at a roller-skating rink. When the local boy proves too awkward to make any advances to his date, the more experienced Egyptian guides him along, wordlessly, but with eloquent gestures."
Under the rules of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, more than half the dialogue in a foreign film entry must be in the originating country's own language. However, The Band's Visit, whose Egyptian and Israeli characters communicate mainly in broken English, didn't meet the requirement and was disqualified by the Oscar committee. Even so, Sony Pictures, the film's distributor, entered it in the general Oscar categories of best picture, director, screenplay, actor and actress—none of which came through for the film.
"Nobody in Israel thought about the language problem," said Kolirin, who spent four years making the film. When he heard about the adverse American decision, "I was pissed off for a few days, but I've gotten over it," he said during a visit to Los Angeles.19 May 2007 (2007 Cannes Film Festival)
13 September 2007 (Israel)
18 November 2007 (St. Louis International Film Festival)
9 September 2007 (Toronto International Film Festival)
The film has been adapted into a stage musical, also titled The Band’s Visit. The musical has a book by Itamar Moses with music and lyrics by David Yazbek. The musical opened at the Off-Broadway Linda Gross Theater, produced by the Atlantic Theatre Company, on November 11, 2016, closing on January 8, 2017. Directed by David Cromer, with choreography by Patrick McCollum, the cast stars Tony Shalhoub, John Cariani and Katrina Lenk.
The musical won the 2017 Drama Critics’ Circle Awards for Best Musical, the 2017 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding New Musical, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical. The production will transfer to Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Previews will begin on October 7, 2017 and will open on November 9.
WinsBest Film - Ophir Award
Best Director - Ophir Award
Best Actor - Ophir Award
Best Actress - Ophir Award
Best Supporting Actor - Ophir Award
Best Music - Ophir Award
Best Screenplay - Ophir Award
Best Costumes - Ophir Award
Un Certain Regard - Jury Coup de Coeur - Cannes Film Festival 2007
UNESCO Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Promotion and Preservation of Cultural Diversity Through Film at the 2007 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
Special Mention - Flanders International Film Festival
Scythian Deer - Molodist International Film Festival
Feature Film Award - Montreal Film Festival
Audience Award - Sarajevo Film Festival
Audience Award - Warsaw International Film Festival
Grand Prix - Warsaw International Film Festival
Golden Eye - Zurich Film Festival
New Talent Award - Zurich Film Festival
Best Actor - European Film Awards
Best Un-released Film (in Australia) - Australian Film Critics Association Film Awards
Grand Prize - Lino Brocka Award - Cinemanila International Film Festival
NominationsBest Art Direction - Award of the Israeli Film Academy
Best Cinematography - Award of the Israeli Film Academy
Best Editing - Award of the Israeli Film Academy
Best Sound - Award of the Israeli Film Academy
Best Supporting Actress - Award of the Israeli Film Academy
Best Screenplay - European Film Awards
Best Performance by an Actor (Sasson Gabai) - Asia Pacific Screen Awards
Grand Prix - Flanders International Film Festival