Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2023 10:43 am 
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Wry third feature of the director of 'The Band's Visit" depicts Arab stalemate in Israel

What does "ḍiffāwi" mean? the little boy asks. "Palestinian, like us," his mother answers. "But it's a bad word. Don't use it again." "Ḍiffāwi", it turns out, means "West Banker," i.e., a West Bank Palestinian working illegally in Israel, without a proper "hawiyya" (I.D.). On this word hinges this wry, disheartening film, leavened by humor and irony, about what it's like today to be an Arab living in Israel. Being by the Israeli director of the popular and much admired 2007 debut The Band's Visit (and less seen 2011 The Exchange and 2016 Beyond the Mountains and Hills), this fourth feature, based on a novel by Sayed Kashua, has received the reserved admiration of some leading anglophone film critics. It came out in Israel the same year as Nanav Lapid's Ahad's Knee and Orit Fouks Rotem's debut Cinema Sayaya. Under the new ultra-right Israeli government, it's quite possible in future films as bold and critical as these will be suppressed.

Sami (Alex Bakri) and his wife and small boy go to a family wedding in their home village, and then can't get back to Jerusalem because the Israelis have blocked the road. He went to Hebrew university and has a good Israeli IT job. He chats with a young Israeli soldier at the "hajez" (roadblock) and recognizes him as the kid brother of someone he knew well at university. But they are stuck, and this returns Sami's old awareness of his inferior status in this apartheid state, a country that can close off an Arab village at will, including cell phone reception, so Sami can't even call work to explain. Israeli Arabs may not be so far from the status of the "daffawis."

The symbolism is a bit heavy-handed early on when a cage of doves is opened after the wedding ceremony - they're supposed to fly our in a white flurry - and instead they just cower inside, and it takes a lengthy effort to get any of them to take wing.

Sami's younger brother Aziz (Samer Bisharat), the groom, who could care less about being cut off from his boring Jerusalem job in customer service for Cellcom, and has also picked up on Sami's having a mistress (Hebrew-speaking) back there. He accompanies Aziz back to the checkpoint in the wee hours when the boy soldier, a chess whiz, has agreed he can come to use his cell phone when his superiors aren't there.

Much of the time Let It Be Morning seems at a standstill, but that is the point. An Israeli screenwriter and film director with one foot in the Palestihian world, Eran Kolirin feels closer to the surreal tragicomedies of Elia Suleiman than the tense actionners of Hany Abu-Assad. There is a sad, accepting humor about the only slightly exaggerated fantasy of this film.

Let It Be Morning, 101 mins., debuted in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, July 10, 2021, and showed at many other international festivals. It had theatrical release in Mar. in Israel and in France in Apr. 2022. Its US release begins Feb. 3, 2023.

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