‘Let It Be Morning’ Review: Palestinian Drama Takes a Caustic and Familiar Path

The melancholy affair relies less on absurdist laughs and more on frank despair

"Let It Be Morning"

“Let It Be Morning” begins with a vision of prison bars, which turn out to be the metal on a cage holding wedding doves. Although the first scene is indeed set during nuptial celebrations, it’s an undeniably ominous omen when the door is opened and the birds refuse to fly.

There are, in fact, bars everywhere in Eran Kolirin’s Palestinian drama, though few others are as visible (or unsubtle). His protagonist, Sami (Alex Bakri), is confined by his marriage, his family, his town. Some of these imprisonments, like his unhappy relationship with his sharply intelligent wife (an excellent Juna Suleiman), are at least partially of his own making. Others, like a stubbornly closed checkport to Jerusalem, are not.

Sami’s instinct to escape immediately after his brother’s village wedding is, he insists, purely practical: he’s got to get back to work in the city before he gets fired. But his emotional itchiness is obvious to everyone around him, even as he tries—if halfheartedly—to hide it. He left this parochial life behind, with its underachieving neighbors, needy relatives, and dusty roads leading to nowhere. He’s urban and urbane now, a sophisticated success with a good job, a modern sensibility, and a mistress who can’t wait to see him.

Unfortunately, the Israeli army couldn’t care less about any of this. In an effort to capture unregistered Palestinians, soldiers have fenced off the town so that no one can go in or out. As much as Sami wants to get away, he’s got no escape. And if he can’t run from his hometown, he’ll have no choice but to revisit the self he long ago left behind.

Kolirin has made several features but is best known for the 2007 dramedy “The Band’s Visit.” This is a far more melancholy affair, relying less on absurdist laughs and more on frank despair. Bakri and his supporting cast tap into their characters’ emotions with palpable depth. Cinematographer Shai Goldman reflects their increasingly jittery energy with a sharply observant lens that jumps from one perspective to another. And music supervisor Habib Shadah adds layers with a fast-switching soundtrack that does the same.

Even so, Kolirin unearths dark humor in unexpected spots, from those recalcitrant birds to the single, utterly clueless Israeli soldier tasked with keeping an entire, outraged town at bay. (The filmmaker’s mordant sensibility bled into reality when his mostly-Palestinian cast protested the movie’s Cannes premiere, because it was submitted as an Israeli release.)

It’s an impossible situation for everyone, and Kolirin—a Jewish Israeli who adapted his script from a book by Palestinian author Sayed Kashua—never pretends otherwise. This does lead to a climax that we can see coming as soon as we meet Abed (Ehab Salami), a former friend who once again follows Sami around like a puppy dog. And Sami himself is on a journey that feels increasingly foreseeable as circumstances force his hand.

But Kolirin has a sense for the bleakly surreal, and an ability to balance even the darkest experiences with empathetic shades of gray. Everyone here is bound by bars of some sort, and everyone has the freedom to make certain choices within them. Ultimately, his interest is less about the roadblock in front of Sami than about the paths he wants to forge—or doesn’t.