Directed by Elite Zexer
Released September 28, 2016
Israeli produces a number of movies each year and has managed to earn an impressive ten Oscar nominations in the Best Foreign Film category over the past sixty years. Each year, the winner of the Ophir, the Israeli Oscar, for Best Film goes on to be considered for the Oscar. Last week, “Sand Storm” won that honor, more than half a year after taking home the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema – Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival. “Sand Storm” represents what’s best about the Israeli cinema industry today: a portrait of diverse cultures and the complexities within them.
“Sand Storm” opens with one of its two protagonists, Layla (Lamis Ammar) driving with her father Suliman (Hitham Omari), switching back to the passenger seat when they approach their village. Layla is clearly a free spirit and her father is open-minded in his personal practice, but in their Bedouin village, they must maintain a certain traditional decorum. Involved with that is Suliman’s marriage to a new younger wife, an event that Layla’s mother Jalila (Ruba Blal-Asfor) must host. Both women stage their own rebellions against the oppression they experience from the males in their society, Layla in an overt manner as she tries to choose her own husband and Jalila more subtly as she wears the pain of silently suffering after working so hard to be a rock for her family for so many years.
The film’s poster features the image above of Layla with her hand over her boyfriend’s mouth, symbolizing a demand for women’s voices to be heard. This film does a strong job of extracting the energies of its two female protagonists in a deeply involving story of a tight-knit community bound by its ways. As Layla, Ammar exhibits a grand sense of self, not content to be confined to a gender role and set on determining her own life. It’s not always a showy performance but a consistently emotive one. Opposite her, Blal-Asfor internalizes Jalila’s struggle, conveying her deep pain that is now manifesting itself as anger and resentment more than anything. Omari also offers a complex performance that paints him at times as a modern, sympathetic figure and at others as an archaic, unyielding obstacle. Israeli director Zexer, who is Jewish, works with a multicultural crew to create a relevant and engaging film that represents yet another facet of Israel in cinema.