SIFF 2016 Review: Sand Storm
Sand Storm focuses on a similar theme as the 2016 Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee Mustang, a French-produced film that takes place in Turkey. I absolutely loved Mustang, and Sand Storm is almost as good.
In Mustang five sisters are put on “house arrest” by their caretaker uncle when he hears that the girls are hanging around with their male schoolmates. What starts as a joyful movie of five independent, modern Turkish girls turns into a serious drama when the girls are forced back against their wills into more traditional roles.
Sand Storm begins in a similar fashion, when Layla, played magnificently by young actress Lamis Ammar, gets driving lessons from her beloved and modern-thinking Bedouin father. However, when the parents find out that she has a boyfriend at university, the father, who is a leader in his community, must choose between respect from the community through the maintenance of rigid traditions or the happiness of his daughter. Layla herself must choose between her personal happiness and obedience to father and tradition. Layla’s mother has her own problems when her husband brings home a young second wife.
Ruba Blal-Asfour is very strong in this role as wife and mother. Haitham Omari, a former cameraman, gives a sensitive and nuanced performance as the father. This is the first feature film by Israeli woman director Elite Zexer, who should be proud of herself as this film won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Festival this year (2016) and she won the Seattle Film Festival 2016 (SIFF) Grand Jury Prize, New Director’s Competition.
I enjoyed the setting: I had not thought of Bedouins living in Israel. More than anything we are made to ponder the tightrope women and men of the Muslim world must walk between strict religious strictures placed on male-female rules of behavior and trying to achieve the right to interact with each other as equals in modern societies, including the right to choose one’s own spouse, or even to sit in intellectual conversation together in public. Of course, the penalties for the breaking of these rules are much more devastating for women than for men.
This is an excellent film.