Israeli Director Accepts ‘an Invitation for a Public Suicide’
This is how Eran Kolirin describes his decision to take up a Palestinian author’s offer to adopt ‘Let It Be Morning.’ The result is a terrific amalgam of magic realism, cultural exegesis, family drama, and farce.
The opening moments of “Let It Be Morning,” the new film from Israeli writer and director Eran Kolirin, give new meaning to the phrase “bird’s eye view.”
We are at a wedding, that much is known for sure. The camera is shuttled through the proceedings, but we see the bride, the groom, the guests, and the band through a blurred set of apertures that are low to the ground and none too stable. It’s an unnerving tack on Mr. Kolirin’s part, putting the audience on tenterhooks from the get-go. Where, exactly, are we, and who are we?
“What are we?” is the appropriate answer, as Mr. Kolirin discloses that we’ve been looking at the festivities through the vantage point of a bevy of doves locked inside a cage. What the doves are doing, or are supposed to do, makes for one of the funnier cinematic moments in recent memory. Funny, but also awkward, sad, and somewhat bitter — which pretty much sums up the tenor of “Let It Be Morning.”
The movie begins with a text oddly reminiscent of the “Star Wars” prologue. “In a place not far from here,” we read, “a short while before peace breaks out….” The place is a rural Palestinian village in Israel, and within that one sentence fragment, Mr. Kolirin sets the tone: wry, a bit fatalistic, a bit fanciful, and summed up with an ellipsis that reminds us that history is forever being written.
Mr. Kolirin is best known for “The Band’s Visit” (2007), his debut as a feature filmmaker that was released to much critical acclaim and later adapted into a Tony award-winning play. When the director was approached by a Palestinian author, Sayed Kashua, to adopt his 2006 novel “Let It Be Morning,” Mr. Kolirin described the offer as “an invitation for a public suicide.”
“I know the discourse,” he said in an interview recounted in the Times of Israel. “I will be hanged in the public square.”
Mr. Kolirin went ahead with “Let It Be Morning” all the same and its reception only proved that, to quote Chuck Berry, you never can tell. The film was a success and went on to win best picture at the Ophir Awards, the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars. It was subsequently submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for nomination as Best Foreign Language Film in 2021.
The Academy didn’t pick Mr. Kolirin’s picture, which only goes to highlight how this august institution has a blind spot for cinematic derring-do. As it turns out, “Let It Be Morning” is a terrific movie, an unlikely amalgam of magic realism, cultural exegesis, family drama, and, at splendid moments, out-and-out farce. Do politics enter into it? You best believe they do, but polemics, here, take a backseat to art. Mr. Kolirin proves skillful at navigating some tautly configured and perilous straits.
“Let It Be Morning” centers on Sami (Alex Bakri), an erudite businessman of some means who’s traveled to his home village for the nuptials of his younger brother. Before too long we get the lay of the land: Sami’s friends and family aren’t fond of his big-city ways and Sami can’t return to Jerusalem soon enough. Provincial life is beneath him; the provincials, in turn, are hurt by his disdain.
That, and Sami has an important presentation to make at work and, even more pressing, a mistress for whom he’s pining. When Sami packs the wife (a brooding Juna Suleiman) and kid (Maruan Hamdam) into the family car, he finds the road back home blocked by the Israeli army. The local authorities are attempting to locate and expel daffawis — that is to say, illegal West Bank Palestinians — from the area. A lockdown is in place. Sami is put out; so, too, are his kin who have to temporarily make room for him in their lives.
“Let It Be Morning” is populated by a motley array of roving characters and untenable situations: old friends whose company we’ve outgrown; ineffectual bureaucrats; local thugs; civil unrest; long-standing family grudges; and, this being the 21st century, poor cellphone reception. Tragedy of a rather shocking severity occurs, as well as a denouement that is both haunting and hopeful in its equivocation. Mr. Kolirin is aided in his efforts by a stellar cast of actors, all of whom embody the myriad contradictions that are woven into the characters and the situations they inhabit.
“Let It Be Morning” would be nothing if it didn’t raise a few hackles. It would be even less if the picture didn’t set out the contours of the human animal in a manner that is no less humane for being sardonic.