‘Let It Be Morning’: A slice of Palestinian life, inside Israel


(3 stars)

If the groom appears reluctant at the wedding that opens the film “Let It Be Morning,” he’s not the only one. When doves are released to mark the occasion, they decline to leave their cage and, after being shooed out of it, refuse to fly.

That ruefully humorous moment establishes the tone of this mostly gentle but occasionally turbulent comic drama, which is primarily about the ways people fail their families, friends and themselves. Yet the story’s universal humanity is sometimes upstaged by its setting: an Arab village within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, which makes its residents Israeli citizens. The situation is as complicated as the movie’s backstory. “Morning” was written and directed by Eran Kolirin, an Israeli Jew, from a 2006 novel written in Hebrew by Sayed Kashua, a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

The village is the hometown of the widely admired Sami (Alex Bakri), who works for a tech company in Jerusalem. He’s returned to attend the nuptials of his younger brother Aziz (Samer Bisharat) and Lina (Yara Elham Jarrar), a match that appears less than ideal. It’s no worse, though, than Sami’s relationship with his wife, Mira (Juna Suleiman), the mother of their young son, Adam (Maruan Hamdan).

Sami slips away from the festivities to call his lover, suggesting that he visit her later that night. The assignation is postponed indefinitely, however, when Sami and his family head home and find the only road barred by Israeli soldiers. All they’re told is that there’s an “operation.”

So Sami, Mira and Adam are stuck in the small town, a cauldron of personal, social and political conflicts. Many of those center on Abed (Ehab Elias Salami), a childhood friend of Sami who’s been largely abandoned by the more successful man. Abed is still pining for his ex and hopes to impress her with the money he earns driving his new taxi van. But there are no fares as long as the village is locked in isolation, and a local gangster is demanding that Abed repay the money he borrowed to buy the vehicle.

Other antagonisms have broader implications. The local Arab authorities are rounding up undocumented workers from the occupied West Bank, including the ones hired by Sami’s father (Salim Daw) to build a house for his son that the younger man doesn’t want. And Sami’s offhand comment about the villagers’ inability to organize sparks a demonstration against the road shutdown, a protest that seems initially vigorous but is easily dispersed.

While Sami’s off-screen lover may be Jewish, the only non-Arab character with a speaking part is a soldier who mans the roadblock’s checkpoint. Israeli military action sets the narrative in motion, but nearly all the strife is generated within the village, not from without.

Anyone who’s followed recent news from Israel and the West Bank won’t be too surprised by “Morning’s” violent climax. But the somber development undercuts the film’s mainly low-key demeanor and is less compelling than the psychological clashes. Far more interesting are the portraits of the town, whose traditionalism doesn’t preclude prominent showcases for Western pop songs by Sia and the Dead Weather, and Sami, whose reputation and self-regard unravel over the course of Bakri’s masterly performance.

Kolirin debuted with 2007’s “The Band’s Visit,” also set in a small town in Israel. The tale of Egyptian police orchestra musicians who get stuck in (and accepted by) a hamlet that wasn’t expecting them, the movie proved heartwarming enough to get adapted into a musical.

It was also highly mannered in a way that recalled Jim Jarmusch’s and Aki Kaurismaki’s deadpan comedies. Since then, Kolirin’s style has become less showy and more naturalistic, which suits “Let It Be Morning.” The locations of Kolirin’s first and latest films are both fictional, but Sami’s home village is better grounded in geographic and emotional reality.

Unrated. At Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema. Contains violence and some strong language. In Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles. 101 minutes.

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