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Review of Award Winning Israeli Film Sand Storm Set in Bedouin Village On Netflix-Thumbs Up !

by Rhonda Spivak, Sept 2, 2017

Editor's Pick: Award Winning Israeli Film Sand Storm  Set in Bedouin Village on Netflix is Really Worth Seeing 
The 2016 Israeli Film Sand Storm, (Hebrew???? ???‎ Sufat Chol) ,directed by Elite Zexer, which won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic section at  the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, is worth seeing. The film, which also won  Best Film Award at the Ophir Awards, can be viewed on Netflix, and I found it held my interest from beginning to end.
set in a Bedouin village,in Southern Israel,the film is a critique on the oppression of women in Bedouin society, where bigamy is common.The film opens with a husband Suliman is about to take a much younger second wife and his first wife, Jalila, is obliged to stage the wedding celebration.
I should mention that one of the reasons that this film resonated with me so strongly is that when I worked as a lawyer at the Association of Civil Rights  in Jerusalem many moons ago in 1996, I remember receiving a call from a Bedouin man who had married a second wife, and I had to explain to him that under the laws of the State of Israel, bigamy was forbidden.  He refused to accept this. And I learned that that despite the law, bigamy remains the norm in Bedouin society, and this has not changed. To the best of my knowledge, the Israeli authorities do not crack down on the Bedouin for violating this law, essentially giving them autonomy to continue their bigamous tradition.
In the film,Suliman's first wife Jalila appears to  shows no outward resentment at the traditional imposition of not only having to share her husband with a much younger woman, but having to welcome the younger woman with open arms. When Suliman returns from his honeymoon he begins to set up a separate household for his newest bride, which is much better furnished and in far better condition than the household which Jalila lives in. In fact we see that Jalila and her daughters live in abject poverty, while the new bride 's conditions are far better. One of the reasons that Suliman takes another  bride is that he has not been able to produce any male children with Jalila, and in the Bedouin  society it is the men who count. 
The film shows that in some superficial ways, Bedouin society has modernized in that they use cell phones and Suleiman lets his teenage daughter, Layla, drive. But, fundamentally, the film's message is  that traditional Bedouin society has not modernized. 
In the film,the daughter Layla is preoccupied with a secret, strictly forbidden, love affair with a boy from school who is not from her tribe,  which her mother finds about . The relationship it  violates two cultural rules: women are not supposed to have relationships with men they’re not related to, and they’re expected to marry within their tribe, often in arranged marriages. Layla’s boyfriend Anwar  arrives at Layla's house and tries to convince Suliman to let his daughter continue the romance , but this is to no avail. Suliman may love his daughter but he views life through the traditional cultural norms.After Suleiman meets his daughter's , he arranges for her to be married to another man from the tribe, who is not nearly as physically attractive as her boyfriend. 
In the end,Jalila , who believes that the world is harsh and the  best thing to do is to keep her mouth shut, comes to see Layla's side, and tells her daughter behind her husband's back that it's OK to run off with her lover, and escape the oppressive atmosphere of her village. The two women are forced to understand that, if they wish to survive, they will have to start seeing the world from each other's eyes. Layla is thus faced with the struggle of running off with her lover, or marrying a man she does not know and is not in love with, but whom her father has chosen. Her father expects her to have faith in his choice of a groom fro her. Jalila is not happy with the choice telling Suliman that their daughter is smart and beautiful, such that he should have found her a mor esuitable groom.
The drama in the film is rich and convincing. Roger Ebert in his critique of the film noted that while the drama  is "persuasive and finely wrought", the fact that the director "Zexer is a Jewish Israeli can’t help but make some viewers wonder how people from the world that’s depicted would view her critique of their culture". Ebert does note however that Zexer "reportedly studied Bedouins for years before making “Sand Storm.” " While the point Ebert makes  is fair enough, it does not detract from the the fact that Sandstorm is a very good film, which I definitely recommend seeing. 
(Those interested in reading Roger Ebert's full review of the film can go to:
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.