×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Sand Storm’

A sympathetic but clear-eyed look at the inequalities that entrap women (and the men they love and resent) in a Bedouin village.

With:
Lamis Ammar, Ruba Blal-Asfour, Haitham Omari, Khadija Alakel, Jalal Masarwa. (Arabic dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4365518/

On the face of it, “Sand Storm” presents a familiar feminist tale of a teenaged girl trapped between her desire to control her destiny and the constraints of her traditional family. Yet this emotionally intelligent first feature offers a sympathetic but clear-eyed look at the tangled skein of inequalities that entrap women (and the men they love and resent) in a Bedouin village stranded between modernization and anachronistic patriarchy. Written and directed by a Jewish Israeli woman, Elite Zexer, and made with a Jewish-Arab crew, the film boasts alluring desert visuals, muscular acting and intricate psychology that should attract audiences for women’s movies, foreign art films and those who believe that melodrama still has a place in cinema.

Men are not permitted at a Bedouin celebration in Southern Israel to welcome (with variable enthusiasm) the arrival of a second wife. Instead the older women wear fake mustaches, one of many striking images in “Sand Storm” that address the crucible of anger and pain that simmers beneath the revelry. Jalila (Ruba Blal-Asfour), the man’s first wife, glowers magnificently, and not just because she’s going to have to share power with the younger newcomer. Discovering that her daughter, Layla (Lamis Ammar), has a secret lover at school, Jalila freaks out at first, then defends Layla to her father, Suliman (Haitham Omari), who has given his eldest child many modern advantages — a cell phone, driving lessons, an education — and yet, for his own murky reasons, shows willing to sacrifice her future to an arranged marriage to a village man she barely knows.

At once autocratic and weak, Suliman props up an archaic social structure in which men call the shots but women clean up the messes. Ammar makes a charmingly frisky Layla, but the energy of “Sand Storm” surely belongs to Blal-Asfour as her mother, a caged tiger who smolders and paces and deliver tongue-lashings to her hapless conformist of a husband as needed. Rail as they might, Jalila and Layla remain caught between loyalty to their disintegrating family and an emerging hunger for autonomy and experience that are prohibited by their medieval fate. Those fake mustaches signal both strength and vulnerability, and the movie captures the stark beauty of the Negev desert where this traditionally nomadic tribe has put down roots, marred by a pervasive sense of entrapment for the young woman who’s both deeply attached to her mother and sisters, and desperate to fly the coop.

Popular on Variety

The handheld camerawork can be rough at times, and here and there Zexer steps a little heavily on the pedal of metaphor: A long tunnel works a touch too hard to flag Layla’s struggle between freedom and family duty. But the director juggles different points of view with aplomb, and her strong script addresses with impressive subtlety the gap between what people say and what they do under extreme pressure.

The strands of her narrative come together to show how everyone is left the loser in polygamous marriage, a divide-and-rule institution that pits not only husband and wife against one another, but also women who would otherwise be inclined to mutual support. Mercifully there’s no Hollywood ending here, only a bracing touch of mordant humor about interior decor that has the discreet hum of groundwork being laid, and rebellions yet to come.

Sundance Film Review: 'Sand Storm'

Reviewed at Rodeo screening room, Beverly Hills, Jan. 15, 2016. (In Sundance Film Festival — World Cinema, competing.) Running time: 87 MIN. (Original title: "Sufat chol")

Production: (Israel-France) A Beta Cinema presentation of a 2-Team production in association with United King Films. (International sales: Beta Cinema, Munich.) Produced by Haim Mecklberg, Estee Yacov-Mecklberg. Executive producers, Rami Yehoshua, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery, Yigal Mograbi.

Crew: Directed, written by Elite Zexer. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Shai Peleg; editor, Ronit Porat; music, Ran Bagno; set decorator, Nir Adler; costume designer, Chen Gilad; line producer, Kainan Eldar; casting, Limor Shmila.

With: Lamis Ammar, Ruba Blal-Asfour, Haitham Omari, Khadija Alakel, Jalal Masarwa. (Arabic dialogue)

More Film

  • The Irishman

    'The Irishman' Nabs 17.1 Million U.S. Viewers on Netflix in First Five Days, per Nielsen

    Martin Scorsese’s mafia saga “The Irishman” was watched by 17.1 million unique Netflix viewers in the U.S. in the first five days of its streaming release, according to Nielsen estimates. By comparison, Sandra Bullock-starrer “Bird Box” scored nearly 26 million U.S. viewers in its first seven days of availability (Dec. 21-27, 2018) on Netflix, according [...]

  • De-aging Robert De Niro For Scorsese's

    'The Irishman': A Closer Look at the De-Aging of De Niro in Scorsese's Mob Epic

    Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” hits Netflix today and it stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a truck driver who meets Russell Bufalino (Pesci). Sanning several decades, the film follows Sheeran as he gets involved in the greatest unsolved mob mystery – the disappearance of union boss Jimmy [...]

  • David Tennant'Good Omens' TV show premiere,

    Intl. TV Newswire: HBO in Denmark, Tennant in a Balloon, Eccho Rights in Love

    In this week’s jam-packed International TV Newswire, Variety catches you up on HBO’s first Danish original series “Kamikaze,” the first deal between ViacomCBS-owned broadcasters since the merger, David Tennant’s upcoming 80-day global circumnavigation, an un-scripted deal between Japan’s Nippon TV and the U.K.’s The Story Lab. Also on the mix: Eccho Rights’ newest global pickup from Sweden, [...]

  • Sin Señas Particulares

    Alpha Violet Acquires Fernanda Valadez’s Sundance-Selected ‘Identifying Features’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES  — Paris-based Alpha Violet  has acquired international rights to Fernanda Valadez’s feature debut, “Identifying Features,” which world premieres in World Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Announced this week, the Sundance selection comes on top of a Films in Progress Prize at this September’s San Sebastian Festival. Studying at Mexico’s Centro [...]

  • Days of Christmas

    Pau Freixas on Netflix Spanish Miniseries ‘Days of Christmas’

    BARCELONA – A Netflix original produced by Spain’s Filmax, “Days of Christmas” marks the new series of Pau Freixas, one of the highest-profile creators on Spain’s vibrant drama series scene. A three-part miniseries, “Days” will be made available worldwide by Netflix on Dec. 6. The story takes place over three different Christmas days, the first [...]

  • Writers-Room-Panel

    Ventana Sur: Argentine Directors on Benefit of Writers’ Room (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Ventana Sur hosted two of the country’s leading screenwriters to relay the benefits of utilizing a writers’ room while conceptualizing fiction projects, delivered to a packed auditorium on Tuesday afternoon as part of the Fiction Factory series held at the UCA Campus in Puerto Madero. Director Daniel Burman, known for films such [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content