What is a tradition? A custom, a belief that is passed on generation to generation, right? A child is born into a family that he/she does not choose, but is destined to be born in. And that child follows that particular family/society’s traditions. Most of which is important and perhaps, are ought to be followed.
But what if some of the customs and beliefs are imposed to every passing generation? What if traditions become suffocating and need amendment? Why does family and society become more important than one self?
Isn’t living life about having freedom to choose what an individual wants, instead of being told what to do?
This week my recommendation is Elite Zexer’s 97-minute Arabic film Sand Storm (Sufat Chol) available on Netflix.
Logline: In southern Israel a teen’s forbidden love affair challenges the traditions of her Bedouin mother and father.
The film starts with Suliman (Hitham Omari) a mid forties man teaching his teenage daughter Layla (Lamis Ammar) how to drive a car, in a small village in the south of Israel. Layla looks happy and secure with her father. Suliman asks her about her studies and shows concern when he hears about her performance as a student. Suliman and Layla arrive at their house, where Jalila (Ruba Blal) Suliman’s wife and Layla’s mother, disapproves Suliman taking Layla for driving lessons on his wedding day. Visibly annoyed, Jalila sets up the bed in the adjacent house along with Layla’s for Suliman’s new bride. Jalila looks around at the red painted house and colorful ceiling lights with jealousy. Later, Jalila welcomes Affaf, Suliman’s young and pretty wife halfheartedly, along with their friends and relatives.
At the wedding celebration Jalila discovers that Layla has a boyfriend, when he calls on Layla’s phone. Jalila’s embittered heart hates the idea of love and forbids her daughter to meet the guy henceforth. An irritated Layla waits for her father to return from his honeymoon so that she can introduce her boyfriend Anwar to him. Suliman’s behavior towards Anwar surprises Layla. She realizes, after all, her father is not all that liberal. She soon learns that her wedding is fixed with someone else by her father. In the course of the film, Jalila becomes intolerant of Suliman’s norms and eventually gets banished by her husband, forced to leave her four daughters behind. What follows is the battle of love and fate painted beautifully by the maker with hues of sensitivity and shadows of patriarchy, everything shot like a visual poetry.
The story that starts with a hope of modernity from a father supervising his daughter to drive his truck to choosing her groom gives a bold message. Jalila’s frowning face and the look in her eye when she meets her husband after his wedding, as if he was a borrowed man steals the show. Suliman’s wedding with his young wife is left open for guessing. It could be because he already had four daughters from Jalila and wanted sons, performing a ritual or it simply was sex segregated. All the performances are wonderful, except a special mention for Ruba Blal playing Jalila, she lit up the screen each time. Writer- director Elite Zexer’s screenplay is well edited and to the point and the film well crafted. Small details like chipping walls in Jalila’s house and newly painted house for Suliman’s bride make a strong point.
Sand storm was shown in the Panorama section at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival. At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, it won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic section. It was selected as the Israeli entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards. Sand storm rates 7/10 on the IMDB and 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Zexer has said she was inspired to explore the subject after accompanying her mother, a photographer, to document a Bedouin village.
““On one of our visits, we escorted a young woman during her wedding to a strange man, a man she only married to please her family, while she secretly loved another. Minutes before she met him for the first time, she turned to me and said, ‘This will never happen to my daughter’”. Sand storm director Ms. Elite Zexer told the Guardian.
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(Shweta Basu Prasad is a national award winning actress, famed for Makdee, Iqbal and television show Chandra Nandini. Shweta is a graduate in mass media and journalism)