Let It Be Morning: A confident satire about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and life under occupation
Eran Kolirin’s latest effort, titled Let It Be Morning, is characterised by solid elements of satire along with dry, minimalistic humour.
The Israeli screenwriter and director is best known for his debut feature, the 2007 dramedy The Band’s Visit. A critical success, the film has been later adapted into a stage musical of the same name and revolved around eight musicians who play for the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra and arrive in Israel from Egypt.
In it, the band has been booked by an Arab cultural centre in Petah Tikva, but through a miscommunication, they end up in Beit Hatikva, a fictional town in the Negev Desert.
"Kolirin’s satire often emerges through simple, but highly symbolical dramatic solutions. For example, the Israeli army is here embodied by a single soldier lazily sitting at the checkpoint"
Premiered in the Un Certain Regard strand of last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Let It Be Morning had a very successful festival run – Palm Springs, Göteborg, Kerala, Haifa, among others – and won big at the 2021 Israeli Film Academy Awards.
There, it took home seven prizes out of 14 nominations (including Best Director, Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress). Moreover, the feature has been Israel’s hope for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards.
Kolirin’s feature also sparked controversy after the two lead actors Alex Bakri and Juna Suleiman (both Palestinians now living in Germany) refused to attend the world premiere at Cannes as well as the Ophirs gala (where they were awarded Best Actor and Best Actress).
The two thesps released some critical statements which were read during the awards ceremony. The fact that the film ended up being labelled as an Israeli production instead of being considered Palestinian was particularly criticised.
“In a normal situation, I would feel happiness and recognition for the prize, but to my dismay, that’s not possible when there are efforts being made to wipe out the Palestinian identity and the collective pain that I carry with me is found in every role I play,” wrote Suleiman.
“The film describes a closure that has no reasons and no end in sight. That closure represents the absurd and inability to control tiny details of our lives. I know that there are those who will be angry about bringing up politics in this evening that celebrates art, but to my mind all art is political and behind it is an artist’s responsibility to take advantage of every stage possible to speak out about a lack of justice,” added Bakri.
Penned by the director himself and based on a novel by Palestinian writer and journalist Sayed Kashua, the film centres on Sami (played by Alex Bakri), a middle-class Palestinian telecom exec based in Jerusalem, where he lives with his charming wife Mina (Juna Suleiman) and his child.
The man is invited to his brother Aziz’s (Samer Bisharat) wedding and forced to return to the remote Arabic village where he grew up. We soon realise that the memories of his youth in the countryside seem far away from Sami’s mind and heart.
The first turning point takes place when – after the wedding and for no apparent reason – the village is put under lockdown by the Israeli armed forces. Furthermore, electricity is cut off and supply runs are banned from entering.
Quite predictably, Sami feels trapped in a cage and wishes to return home as soon as possible to take care of his business and meet his mistress. Later on, viewers will discover that the provision has been implemented to ‘draw out’ illegal West Bank Palestinians.
Some of them, however, happen to be employed by Sami’s family to build a second home. This narrative choice makes Samy’s character more complex. Even though the man tries to protect them from the authorities this doesn’t change the fact that he is one of their exploiters (the other is one of his relatives).
In addition to developing Samy’s ‘duality,’ Kolirin’s satire often emerges through simple, but highly symbolical dramatic solutions. For example, the Israeli army is here embodied by a single soldier lazily sitting at the checkpoint.
The young man doesn’t even look too bright and kills time by strumming his guitar. Such representation ultimately ridicules the threat posed by the military forces.
The same type of simplicity is applied to other, less politically orientated scenes, wherein dry-wit humour flourishes. In one of the scenes set at Azis’s wedding, for example, the singer invites people to take a group picture with the bride and the groom, “while a thousand white doves are supposed to fly into the sky like the colours of the rainbow.”
The crowd claps and a man opens the doves’ cage. For about ten seconds, the camera observes the doves minding their own business and unwilling to exit the cage.
The doves finally leave the cage but the man’s desperate attempts to make them fly are all in vain. The scene is closed by the spouses and the guests’ embarrassed looks, interrupted by the sharp noise of fireworks.
All in all, Let It Be Morning is an enjoyable comedy. It occasionally suffers from some pacing issues, especially during its last third. Nonetheless, it represents a confident cinematic comeback for Kolirin, who gifts the spectators with some solid storytelling, good acting performances and a compelling lead character.
Davide Abbatescianni is an Italian Film Critic and Journalist based in Cork, Ireland.
Follow him on Twitter: @dabbatescianni