A Film a Week - Let It Be Morning / Vayehi boker

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

One of the few good things on the margins of the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that there is at least some cultural exchange between the sides, so dissonant tones critical to the official policies can be heard, at least coming from the Israeli side. One of those voices certainly belongs to filmmaker and screenwriter Eran Kolirin whose film “The Band’s Visit” (2007) dared to ask a crucial question how it is for good people at a wrong place, such was the case of the visiting Egyptian band in Israel.

Kolirin’s newest film “Let It Be Morning” is a proper Israeli-Palestinian collaboration, based on the novel by the Palestinian journalist-writer Sayed Kashua, known for the source material of the films “Private” (2004) and “A Borrowed Identity” (2014), and on the topic of the Israeli Arabs and their need to re-assess the identities they have built in the times of distress. Filmed with a Palestinian cast and a mixed crew, it tells a Kafka-esque story about a man’s life getting shattered after he was forced to stay with his family and childhood friends for way longer than he expected, due to the lockdown imposed on his home village.

When we first see him, Sami (Alex Bakri) has all the reasons to be satisfied with himself: he has a good job in Jerusalem, he is married to a beautiful woman Mira (Juna Suleiman) with whom he has an adorable son, and his father Tarek (Salim Saw) wants to add a wing to the family house just for him. The reason for Sami’s visit is the wedding of his younger brother Aziz (Samer Bisharat) and also an attempt to explain to his father that he is not willing to quit his Jerusalem life just yet. The trouble hits him on his way back after the wedding: the village has been put under lockdown by the Israeli army, and the reason for such a development might be the question of “daffawis”, the undocumented West Bank Palestinians who use the village for getting into Israel where they work illegally.

Sami cannot go back, so he has to face all the things he was running from to his job and his mistress for years: his immediate family, dissatisfied wife who senses something is wrong, his over-bearing father, his hopelessly naïve brother, his sister and her husband who is into local politics, the local politics itself full of lies, criminality and corruption, and his childhood friends, namely Abed (Ehab Salami) who did not find his place in life. As the conditions worsen day by day, Sami has to admit that he is no better than the others and that he has been living in a lie.

At a deliberately slow pace, “Let It Be Morning” goes down multiple tracks, exploring various rarely exposed topics from the daily life of Israeli Arabs and other Palestinians, the differences in their status in Israel and even in its Arabic villages and settlements, and switching tone between an absurdist comedy and a serious drama. On the other hand, it is also a film about the family- and even more general societal and human relations in a situation that is certainly out of normal, and that strikes suddenly, even though it could be expected to occur.

The slowness takes a toll on the viewers also, but there is a good reason for that, since both Kashua in his novel and Kolirin in his film are actually exploring an uncharted territory and are set on creating an atmosphere of waiting and helplessness that is quite universal for common people stuck in a situation at odds with authorities. Also, it leaves enough time and space for the characters to develop, which facilitates the job for the actors. Alex Bakri is a domineering presence on the screen with his blend of smugness and melancholy, Juna Suleiman steps in the role of Mira bravely, Samer Bisharat plays the comic relief-type of character with certain grace, while Ehab Salami manages to squeeze sympathy for the little man who never had a lucky break.

Shai Goldman’s cinematography catches the claustrophobia of the cramped village and cramped houses shared by family clans instead of nuclear families, and puts it in contrast with the diverse landscape around the village that seems like a hilly, arid desert from one angle and an oasis from another, hinting that some beauty and peace could be found even in a hopeless place. Maybe it was the original goal of both Kashua and Kolirin. “Let It Be Morning” is certainly more about the journey than about the destination.

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