An ominous POV shot that wanders around a loud and joyful wedding opens Let It Be Morning, although we’re not, as it turns out, seeing this scene from the perspective of the human guests; throughout, there are bars across the screen, and it’s later revealed that what we’re briefly seeing is the world through the eyes of a dove trapped in a cage. This strange sequence is one of many oddities found in Eran Kolirin’s (The Band’s Visit) dramatic tale, adapted from a novel written by Sayed Kashua, of a man named Sami (Alex Bakri) returning to the Palestinian village in which he was born. During the opening ten minutes of the film, which act as a prologue before its title splashes across the screen, Sami has a series of awkward interactions with forgotten friends and family members whom he’s long tried to avoid. Eventually, this culminates with a gag in which the doves are released but refuse to fly; a humorous moment that sadly remains one of the only instances of comedy in this film that really land.
On the way to leave the village situated in Israeli territory, Sami, along with his wife Mira (Juna Suleiman) and their son, comes across a military blockade. The Israeli government has placed the entire village under lockdown and is refusing to let anyone go further. In true Kafkaesque fashion, no reasoning or explanation is ever given for the obstructionism; people simply give responses such as, “I was just ordered to guard here.” Despite this, the people in the village buckle under growing hysteria and determine that the reason must be the growing number of undocumented West Bank migrants working in the village. All these migrants lack Israeli citizenship, which means their presence is technically “illegal.” However, Sami’s father, who acts as a symbol of Palestinian revolution, claims that they remain brothers despite them not being citizens of Israel. This division interrogates some interesting ideas about the division of labor, the immorality of deeming humans “illegal,” and the concept of Palestinian identity along with citizens assimilating into an Israeli identity.
Sadly, these compelling threads end up as mere background, thanks to Let It Be Morning’s unfocused structure and inconsistent pacing. One theme that’s frequently brought up, yet feels muddled, is the film’s recurring insinuations about masculinity, which is seemingly equated with the courage to rebel; masculine inferiority being deemed a reason why none of the villagers revolt against their occupiers. Characters often ridicule each other or society at large, asserting that there are no longer “real men” and that nobody stands up for themselves anymore. At times, it feels like Kolirin is attempting to form a critique of this idea, or at least poke fun at its essential ridiculousness, but his attempts at any sort of satire fall flat. And this exposes the film’s fundamental flaw, which is that the comedy isn’t particularly effective and doesn’t have enough bite to feel genuinely insightful or provocative.
Kolirin explores his ideas through more of a freewheeling plot as opposed to a traditional narrative, complete with a mosaic of characters and the myriad different circumstances in which they find themselves, including Sami’s failing marriage and his friend Abed’s (Ehab Salami) dealings with a growing mafia presence. Of course, this storytelling style has its effective uses, but here it never feels like a tidy and organic fit with the underlying narrative’s goals. While the film’s first act builds a brilliant sense of unease and makes great use of both its absurdism and naturalism, this early texture eventually softens and leaves Kolirin to cast his focus on generic and uninspired dramatic conflicts. Visually, Let It Be Morning fares a little better, maintaining its appealing realism throughout, giving itself to simple composition, minimal camera movement, and careful editing. But this, too, lands with less impact as the film progresses, its unassuming quality eventually moving into unmemorable territory, with Kolirin rarely crafting any images that stick. Far more attention is paid to dialogue and characters, leaving the camera more observer than participant, which results in a work that feels too writerly for the screen. Which isn’t to deny that Let It Be Morning occasionally engages in thoughtful and intriguing explorations, mainly pertaining to class and ethnic identity as viewed through the lens of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately, the overall inconsistencies of intent and plainness of style sap the film of any lasting dramatic weight.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 6.