Sand Storm movie review: This biting social commentary is a triumph for indie cinema worldwide

Mihir Fadnavis

Jul,13 2017 17:39 01 IST

4/5

(Editor's note: We are doing a series of movie reviews based on films newly available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and other online streaming websites. You can read Mihir's previous reviews herehere, and here.)

In an increasingly volatile world perpetually manipulated by religion, it’s pertinent to exchange dialogue on the social mores of the society we live in. Cinema remains one of the only avenues to have any meaningful criticism of obsolete, regressive religiously bent cultures – and even that avenue is under threat because the mainstream is full of escapist trash.

So it is important that a gateway like Netflix exists, which streams films like Sand Storm – which is not just biting social commentary but also a triumph for indie world cinema to be given a worldwide platform for viewers to access.

Sandstorm is the first film by Israeli filmmaker Elite Zexer but exudes the filmmaking prowess of an auteur.

The poster of Sand Storm.

The film bagged the Grand Jury trophy at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and chronicles the conflicts of a Bedouin family somewhere in the Middle East. The lack of information given about the where the film is set is a little disconcerting at first, but as the story unravels it becomes clear that the obscure detailing was deliberate to make the issues it explores universal.

Layla (Lamis Ammar), an 18-year-old girl is learning to drive in the desert aided by her father (Hitham Omari). At home, her mother is getting dressed up for a special occasion – her husband getting married to a second woman. As the wedding progresses things become more complicated as Layla herself struggles with telling her parents about a boy she is secretly in a relationship with.

The story’s sexist overtones hit like a hammer, not pulling any punches in underscoring the deeply patriarchal culture that has perpetrated marriages not just in the Middle East but around the world. To add the necessary layers, the film is seen through the eyes of not just Layla, but also her parents and her little sister who is unaware that she would be handed a similar fate as her mother and her sister – trapped in a society that demands women to be little more than slaves.

Where the film really excels is how it portrays Layla’s father as someone who thinks he’s very progressive, despite being manipulated by the laws of the Holy Book. He lets his daughters wear jeans and eye makeup and prides himself in being forward thinking, but is powerless when it comes to standing up for the women in his family just because his actions would lead to the neighbors looking down upon him. And in a closely-knit patriarchal society like this, being ostracised is the biggest impairment on a man’s ego.

Thanks to Zexer’s sensitive and ubiquitous direction these issues become easy for us in India to relate to because we live every day grappling with such archaic conflicts. Whether you’re a Hindu or a Muslim you’ll have dealt with such rigid control and regression on an every day basis, sometimes even being unaware that you’re part of this system.

After years of systematic application of such regressive rules you’ve been lulled into believing that all this is okay, and that we should be proud of our great Indian culture.

Aided by her DOP’s exquisite camerawork Zexer’s flair for radiating intimacy from her actors is only paralleled by her ability to show pressing socio cultural issues without the need to sensationalize them. Exploring this world of rural Israel in Sandstorm is a small but necessary step towards having a dialogue on misogyny, but it’s also the arrival of a talented new filmmaker on the world cinema landscape.

If enough people watch the film Netflix would be compelled to add more world cinema titles to their catalogue, so if you’re a film geek go ahead and do your bit by spreading the word.