Let It Be Morning

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Sam and Mira are a Palestinian couple back in the village where he grew up. They’re at the wedding of his brother, a big, rowdy affair, with the extended family out in force, music, dancing, kids running around, it’s a lot of fun.

It’s being held in his father’s half-built house and as Sami wanders off around it to grab some air and a moment to himself, he discovers exactly who is doing the building, one of the “daffawis”, as Palestinian refugees are disparagingly known by Sami’s far less woke brother in law. This refugee is a ragged looking guy and he’s camping out in a shell of a room with his young son, next to bags of cement. Shock one.

On the way home back to Jerusalem, where Sami works in tech alongside Jewish Israelis and is, by his family’s lights, “doing well”, his car suddenly encounters a roadblock manned by Israeli soldiers. They are turned back. The village is cut off. There isn’t even a mobile phone signal. Shock two.

Shock three comes right at the end of the film, by which time Sami, Mira and their son have spent day after day stuck in the village, unable to communicate with the outside world, wondering what’s going on and, to an extent, re-discovering what it means to be a Palestinian, refugee or not, in modern Israel.

Let It Be Morning is a film about borders, internal and external, some negotiable others not, some permanent-looking but which yield when approached, others porous at first glance but granite hard when tested.

At the roadblock outside, where the Israeli soldiers are turning back all Palestinians and will shoot to kill if you don’t obey, it turns out Sami knows one of the soldiers. He studied with his brother. Back in Jerusalem, we later discover, Sami is having an affair with a Jewish woman he’s working with. At the family home where he and his family are forced to camp out until the roadblock is eventually lifted – who knows when – Sami has serious issues with his brother in law’s stand against “daffawis”, who are Palestinian like himself. The local Palestinian mayor is little better than a thug and has similar views.

At the wedding
Happy ever after? The wedding

Let It Be Morning doesn’t sound like a whole load of fun but it carries itself almost as if it were light entertainment. It’s described as a comedy in some quarters, which is a bit of a stretch. But considering the subject matter – possibly precisely because of the subject matter – writer Sayed Kashua (a Palestinian who writes in Hebrew – borders again) and director Eran Kolirin flit between characters and issues in a light and supple way, aided enormously by the performance by Alex Bakri, who puts a bemused, introspective, world-weary Marcello Mastroianni-esque spin on Sami.

Sami has, to an extent, done well in Jewish Israel by subsuming his Palestinian side. Similarly, his wider family and their neighbours back in the village have internalised the border that’s now suddenly taken solid shape right on the outskirts of where they live. To harbour outrage, year after year, cannot be good for the soul. But to let go of it is to admit defeat. This is the dilemma Sami faces, as do all Palestinians. Until now he thought he had found some accommodation between the two positions.

When this film went to Cannes, where it was going to be submitted for consideration in the Un Certain Regard category (aimed at innovative work with “A Certain Look”), the cast objected to it being submitted as an Israeli film – Palestinian, they insisted. It was withdrawn. When it was submitted for Oscar consideration, it was again as an Israeli film. Borders again.

However you brand it, and for all the political content, it may come as a surprise to hear that this is in many respects a lovely low-key film, with sudden moments of mad bravado that hit all the harder as a consequence. A political story told as a human interest story, with real nuance, but not avoiding hard truths. A story of people who just want to go home from a wedding. But can’t.

Let It Be Morning – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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