written by Xena Al
This could have been yet another tale of impossible love, rebellious adolescent years or oppressed Middle-Eastern women. Instead, Sand Storm portrays a moving battle of women’s resistance against patriarchal forces, shown through an anthropological approach and the realistic lens of the director.
In its opening scene, the film delves right into the dichotomous relationship between Bedouin traditions and modern life. We meet the protagonist Layla and her father Suleiman, as the latter teaches her how to drive along a lengthy and bleak desert road. Just as the viewers have identified Suleiman as progressive, we learn that, in fact, he is preparing to wed a second wife that night, with the grudging consent of his first wife Jalila–the protagonist’s mother. When we reach the Bedouin village where the story unfolds, we meet Jalila, played by the captivating Ruba Blal-Asfour, as she takes on the demeaning task of preparing for her husband’s second wedding. Shortly thereafter, Jalila discovers that Layla is involved in a secret romantic relationship with a guy from university and wishes to marry him against tribal rules. Needless to say, drama ensues.
This film is undeniably a commentary on gender relations and the role of female camaraderie. During the hour and a half long struggle for individual will, women—Layla and Jalila— are depicted as resilient and empowered potential change agents, while men — represented by Suleiman— are contrastingly shown as conformists who are powerless in facing archaic values. Despite Jalila’s graceful and dignified endurance of the pressures of being a Bedouin woman and Suleiman’s meek demeanor, the latter retains the undeserved upper hand. When Layla becomes aware of this gender-based struggle, she switches her alliance to Jalila and a striking mother-daughter bond is forged.
The dialogue is artfully utilized to bring to surface the subtleties of the Bedouin community. Both the serenity and the harshness of the desert are mirrored in the rhythm of the dialogue characterized by minimalism and long pauses, during which the viewer can reflect on the inner turmoil of each character. Additionally, the stifling rigidity of the Bedouin social code comes through in the reserved and polite exchanges between the characters. Indeed, true emotions and desires are only expressed through dialogue when the plot starts to escalate towards the end of the film.
Sand Storm is a compelling story of a young woman’s arduous pursuit of happiness that unravels in the waning isolation of the desert. It poses the question of whether the vicious cycle of oppression is stoppable. This award-winning film is a must see.