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Let It Be Morning shines light on Palestinians' unease with the status quo in Israel

'Let it Be Morning' is the story of Sami (Alex Bakri), a Palestinian citizen of Israel living in Jerusalem who receives an invitation to his brother's wedding forcing him to return to the village where he grew up.
Cohen Media Group
'Let it Be Morning' is the story of Sami (Alex Bakri), a Palestinian citizen of Israel living in Jerusalem who receives an invitation to his brother's wedding forcing him to return to the village where he grew up.

The film Let It Be Morning centers on the story of Sami, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who thinks he's made it, working at a tech company in Jerusalem, living a double life with his Jewish Israeli mistress.

But when he heads to his family's village for a wedding he wakes up to find it encircled by Israeli soldiers and isolated from the world.

The arbitrary blockade forces Sami to reflect on his marriage, his family and his place in a nation that treats Palestinian citizens of Israel as lesser than Jewish citizens.

Palestinian citizen of Israel Alex Bakri plays Sami. He told Morning Edition host Leila Fadel that at times it was a difficult role to play because of how close some of the scenes are to everyday reality. When the blockade goes up, "he (Sami) suddenly realizes that he's in the eyes of the authorities, in the eyes of the society, in the eyes of the people," Bakri says.

"He thinks they value him. He's just another Palestinian." None of his connections agree to help him return to Jerusalem, and instead his Israeli boss fires him.

The film is based on a novel by Palestinian author and Israeli citizen Sayed Kashua. Kashua asked Jewish Israeli filmmaker Eran Kolirin to adapt it for the big screen. Though he thought it was a "suicide mission," he did.

In 2021, Let It Be Morning swept the Ophir Awards, Israel's equivalent of the Oscars.

Bakri, who's now living in Germany, did not attend the 2021 Cannes film festival in protest of it being labeled as an Israeli film.

It's out in New York and Los Angeles today and will be released nationwide on February 17th.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Interview highlights

Alex Bakri on playing Sami

Alex Bakri with Juna Suleiman (plays his wife Mira) and Maruan Hamdan Adam (plays his young son Adam).
/ Cohen Media Group
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Cohen Media Group
Alex Bakri with Juna Suleiman (plays his wife Mira) and Maruan Hamdan Adam (plays his young son Adam).
The Palestinian villages are totally isolated. So this wall in the film, it's a physical wall in the film, but it's also a metaphorical wall for the situation inside of Israel.

So he's working in I.T. at a company in Jerusalem. He's somebody who left home and never looked back. And that's where he found his place in life, basically away from his home, away from his village. I thought there's a lot of similarity between me and him. I grew up exactly in a village like this. I found a lot of differences between me and the character. I'm not so disconnected from the place. I love the place where I grew up and I love to visit. But there was a lot of similarities in that, in a way of searching your identity, in a way that whether a man can create his own identity while erasing his past and eventually it's impossible.

Bakri on the scene when Sami is not allowed to pass through the checkpoint

The film in its entirety and its theme is kind of telling what is happening really in Israel with Palestinian society in Israel. There are these walls. This separation exists. But most of the societies are clearly separated. They know nothing of each other. The Palestinian villages are totally isolated. So this wall in the film, it's a physical wall in the film, but it's also a metaphorical wall for the situation inside of Israel.

On portraying the tensions within Palestinian communities

Kolirin:

Yeah, I think I mean, that's one of the most brilliant things in Sayed's book and it's kind of depicting history as a kind of vortex of every class is when it's being encircled or besieged.

Bakri:

Like Eran said, the film really depicts this class system within the whole region. You know, like you have the Jewish society, which is like the upper class kind of. You have the Palestinian Israelis that are enjoying some kind of rights more than Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who are living under a military regime. So that already creates a kind of a class system. And besides that, there's also the people who are working for the criminals who are enforcing these policies, which is both a metaphor and both real.

Bakri on Sami in conversation with a Palestinian construction worker who doesn't have the same legal status. Sami tells the worker 'they're coming after your people', and the Palestinian man looks at him and says 'our people'

I think this is the first time in the film where he starts to understand his position. And actually, by the end of the scene, the worker tells him, well, you see, everybody has his own cage. And that was a key moment in the film where Sami suddenly realizes that he's in the eyes of the authorities, in the eyes of the society, in the eyes of the people. He thinks they value him. He's just another Palestinian.

Kolirin on Sami's father breaking out into a song, a rallying cry saying, 'we are dying here', when their house is running out of water

Alex Bakri and Juna Suleiman in 'Let it Be Morning' at an Israeli checkpoint.
/ Cohen Media Group
/
Cohen Media Group
Alex Bakri and Juna Suleiman in 'Let it Be Morning' at an Israeli checkpoint.
When I go to direct the film, I make myself a long list of music that I feel somehow is connected to a certain feeling in the film, which I cannot really express. And for this film, I made this long list of the sweetest pop songs that you can imagine...Because in some ways, I think only a pop song can really drag you out of hell.

Yes, I think that's the darkest moment of the soul in some ways. You know, I wrote the script that this scene kind of came to my head and that was before COVID and, you know, the closure that all the world has gone through. And then when COVID kicked in, suddenly there were those videos coming from Italy about people singing from the balcony at night because they are in siege. And then, you know, not long ago, I've seen this really terrible and so moving video from Ukraine in Kiev where everybody are singing at night in the bombed city. So I felt like I was accurate with that moment somehow, because on some moments there's nothing more to say than just shout your words into the darkness, you know?

Kolirin on using the song Chandelier to indicate happier times

All those morbid issues are gold in the film, there's no doubt about it. But, you know, I would love the audience also to know that it's a film about love and it's a funny film and it's a human film. And as you know, the film, of course there's politics there, but no work of art can be just about politics. If it doesn't reach out to the inner places of the human soul, then it just doesn't work.

One of my biggest fun in films is to somehow clash together the most funny and stupid thing, the most horrible and saddest thing in the world. I just love the feeling of being thrown from this emotion to that emotion sometimes very, very quickly. And you know about Chandelier — when I go to direct the film, I make myself a long list of music that I feel somehow is connected to a certain feeling in the film, which I cannot really express. And for this film, I made this long list of the sweetest pop songs that you can imagine...Because in some ways, I think only a pop song can really drag you out of hell.

And like a lot of times, the Israeli minister of culture comes there and pretends everything's fine and, you know, as if the state of Israel is promoting coexistence, whereas it's completely the opposite of what's happening. I mean, cooperation between us is happening in spite of the state, not because of it.

Bakri on the Palestinian cast choosing not to go to the Cannes Film Festival in 2021

The state of Israel is known for using art and cinema or gay parade or anything that promotes liberal values to try to conceal their crimes against Palestinians and to pretend it's a thriving democracy. And somehow we knew that this specific film would be a perfect film for that, and we kind of preemptive strike. And it was also during times where it was really difficult times. There was the attack on Gaza and there were settlers attacking Palestinians. We had to think about it. What do we do — to go now to Cannes and celebrate? And like a lot of times, the Israeli minister of culture comes there and pretends everything's fine and, you know, as if the state of Israel is promoting coexistence, whereas it's completely the opposite of what's happening. I mean, cooperation between us is happening in spite of the state, not because of it. So we had a long discussion about what to do and also with Eran, whether we should go. There was a protest there. What's the most effective way to make this protest? This was actually a great platform to just show a protest.

The interview with Eran Kolirin and Alex Bakri was produced by Kaity Kline. The digital story was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Reena Advani is an editor for NPR's Morning Edition and NPR's news podcast Up First.