LEILA FADEL, HOST:
The film "Let It Be Morning" centers on the story of Sami, a Palestinian Israeli 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 as lesser than Jewish citizens. Palestinian Israeli actor Alex Bakri plays Sami.
ALEX BAKRI: 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.
FADEL: The Jewish Israeli filmmaker Eran Kolirin adapted Palestinian author Sayed Kashua's novel "Let It Be Morning" for the screen. It's coming out in the U.S. at a time when violence and tension has been rising for months in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Kolirin told me when Kashua approached him about making the film, he was drawn to the project because...
ERAN KOLIRIN: Sometimes films shouldn't be done unless it's impossible. And there was something so intriguing in the story. And I loved the book so much. And I could understand why, on a deeper level than my ethnic identity, let's say, why, because of my previous work - why did Sayed Kashua thought that, you know, I would be the one for this script? 'Cause I think we connect in a lot of ways in the perception of the absurd and the perception of human life and this combination of being funny and being terrible at the same time. And those are the things that move me.
FADEL: So, Alex, you play Sami, this man on a journey. If you could give us his backstory and what it was like to play him.
BAKRI: So he's working in a IT 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 was 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. But there was a lot of similarities 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.
FADEL: Yeah. I think such a remarkable thing about this film is the way it depicts the tensions and stratifications within Palestinian communities, those who enforce the policy of the Israeli state and what that looks like when you're enforcing policy on Palestinian communities, Palestinians doing that to Palestinians. If you could - Eran, if I start with you, if you could talk to me about portraying that and the importance of portraying that.
KOLIRIN: 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. When it's being encircled or besieged, the first thing that this class does is encircle us and besieging another lower class as much as they can. So it's like all part of this disease, the power struggle.
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 frights more than Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, who are living under military regimes. So that already creates a kind of class system. 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.
FADEL: There is a moment in the film, Eran, where Sami's father - the village is running out of things 'cause it's under a blockade, running out of food. At one point, they can't get water. And Sami's father starts to say, in the middle of the village, we are dying here. And then someone else says, we are dying here. And then he breaks into song.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LET IT BE MORNING")
SALIM DAW: (As Tarek, singing in non-English language).
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, singing in non-English language).
DAW: (As Tarek, singing in non-English language).
FADEL: And it's almost this rallying cry of sorts. If you could talk about that scene.
KOLIRIN: Yes, I think that's the darkest moment of the soul in some ways because, in some moments, there's nothing more to say than just shout your words into the darkness, you know?
FADEL: The song "Chandelier," it comes up multiple times in the movie.
KOLIRIN: OK. Get - we get brighter.
FADEL: What's the significance of that song? What does that - yeah, exactly. Night and day here.
KOLIRIN: Yeah, yeah. You know, just - I mean, all those morbid issues are dealt 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. It's a funny film, and it's a human film. You know, the film, of course, there's politics there, but no work of art can be, I think, just about politics. If it doesn't reach out to the inner places of the human soul and - it just doesn't work. In some ways, I think only a pop song can really drag you out of hell.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANDELIER")
SIA: (Singing) I'm going to swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier.
FADEL: Alex, you chose not to go to the Cannes Film Festival with the rest of the cast because it was categorized as an Israeli film. If you could talk to me about making that decision.
BAKRI: Well, you know, like, the state of Israel is known for using art and cinema, gay parade or anything that promotes liberal values, to try to conceal their crimes against Palestinians and, you know, 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 (laughter) 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 with - you know, like, 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, 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 Iran, whether we should go there, whether we should protest there. What's the most effective way to make this protest? This was actually a great platform to just show a protest.
FADEL: Actor Alex Bakri and Director Eran Kolirin speaking to us about their film "Let It Be Morning." Thank you so much. What a pleasure to talk to you both.
KOLIRIN: Thank you so much.
BAKRI: Thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIA SONG, "CHANDELIER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.