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Sounds Of Sand
Si Le Vent Souleve Les Sables
A Man’s Films Productions (Brussels)/A.S.A.P. Films (Paris) production. (International sales: Fortissimo Films, Amsterdam.) Produced, directed, written by Marion Hansel, based on a novel by Marc Durin-Valois. Camera (color), Walther Vanden Ende; editor, Michele Hubinon; music, Rene-Marc Bini; production designer, Thierry Leproust; costume designer, Yan Tax; sound (Dolby SRD), Henri Morelle. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Official Selection), Sept. 23, 2006. Running time: 96 MIN.
Rahne Issaka Sawadogo
Mouna Carole Karemera Umulinga
Shasha Asma Nouman Aden
With: Said Abdallah Mohamed, Ahmed Ibrhim Mohamed. Emile Abossolo M’Bo, Marco Prince, Moussa Assan.
By DEBORAH YOUNG
You can’t ask for a more dramatic subject than the life-and-death struggle of an African family traversing a hostile desert in search of water, featured in Marion Hansel’s (“Dust”) well-intentioned but somewhat soulless “Sounds of Sand.” Despite its sympathetically viewed characters and magnificent Djibouti landscapes, however, this Belgian-French co-prod is so emotionally low-key it remains uninvolving. Auds interested in broad social themes may help pic make some echo beyond the fest circuit, but, in an unusually strong season for African pics, many viewers may pass in favor of a local article.
Story is based on the novel “Chamelle” by Marc Durin-Valois, which won a Francophonie (French language) prize — which may help explain why the entire African cast speaks letter-perfect French, without the slightest hint of a local dialect. Though this peculiarity crops up in films by African directors as well, here it tends to add one more layer of artificiality.
A dire shortage of water leads the people of a sub-Saharan village to pack up their goats and cattle and head off across the sands in search of a more dependable source. Traveling without a map, village schoolteacher Rahne (Issaka Sawadogo) makes the courageous decision to go east with his wife Mouna (Carole Karemera Umulinga) and their three small children.
After a lengthy opener sets the scene, their endless journey commences. Hansel creates a certain amount of apprehension for their fate as they bivouac near a water source jealously guarded by mercenary soldiers, then make a stealthy escape through the desert.
In one harrowing scene, a cadre of crazed guerrilla militiamen force Rahne to hand over one of his boys as a child soldier. As the days pass and no well comes into sight, they begin to lose their goats; then their second son is killed, while Mouna falls frighteningly ill.
The presence of their little daughter Shasha (played by a delightful Asma Nouman Aden) lightens the depressing tale a bit with her playful intuition. Her growing closeness to her father, who barely allowed her to survive when she was born, would come off as more compelling if the emotional content were more developed. A scene in which she braves a minefield at his behest, however, effectively creates tension.
Burkina Faso thesp Sawadogo lends a ton of sober dignity and determination to Rahne, who faces his Sophie’s choice without so much as a muscle twitch to show his inner anguish. The graceful Rwandan actress Karemera Umulinga is about as expressionless, leaving it up to the viewer to intuit her pain.
Extremely tactile lensing by veteran d.p. Walther Vanden Ende puts the viewer under the broiling East African sun right alongside the characters, whose dark faces are always beautifully individuated. Michele Hubinon’s editing is as evenly paced as the camel that crosses the desert with the little family, accompanied by Rene-Marc Bini’s score mixing European orchestration with African instruments.