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Witness the fencing of his own sex

Arab Film Days: A vivid and genuine portrayal of a political fiery theme, where the pre-pubic, tough little sister acts as an extension of the audience's gaze. 


Sand Storm (original title: Sufat cho) Director and script: Elite Zexer

In a Bedouin village in the desert of Israel, Elder daughter Leyla helps her mother Jalila get dressed for a party. Jalila is clearly tense. The reason soon becomes apparent: A white-clad, brightly-dressed bride arrives at her house to celebrate a wedding among the village women. The groom celebrates with the men some distance away. It is Jalila's husband Saliman who has married for the second time with the much younger Affaf. Tradition believes Jalila is the hostess of her new rival, who will live in a separate house with Saliman, while Jalila and the couple's four daughters remain in the old. The women take on loose bars to be able to participate in the subsequent ritual, only as men are allowed to romp in dance. Leila's little sister, the boy girl Tasnim, runs to the men's party to send a message to the father. Finally, the highlight of the evening comes: Saliman arrives to meet her new bride for the first time, and the women rejoice. Fearless Tasnim spies in the window while Saliman helps Affaf out of the sophisticated wedding dress.
For his feature film debut Sand Storm Director Elite Zexer won the award for best feature film in the World Cinema class during the Sundance Festival. According to herself, she was inspired to make this mother-daughter movie while traveling with her own mother in Bedouin villages in Israel. Zexer and her mother met a young woman who married a stranger in line with the family's wishes, despite the fact that she really loved someone else. Minutes before the bride met her future husband for the first time, she turned around and said to Zexer and her mother, "This my daughter will never have to experience."

Fireproof theme. Article 21 of the UN Convention on the Status of Women (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) affirms women's right to freely choose a spouse and marry. A common misconception is that arranged marriages correspond to forced marriages. Contrary to forced marriages, arranged marriages are not prohibited by laws and conventions, but this assumes that the woman has the opportunity to oppose the family's choice of spouse without being subjected to decisive degrees of coercion or pressure.
More and more documentary films about forced marriage and arranged marriages have appeared in the last decade. Norwegian Deeyah Khan won an Emmy award in 2013 Banaz – A Love Story (2012) on honor killings as a result of forced marriage. Last year also came the award-winning Listen To Me (Lalita Krishna), not to mention Sonita (Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, 2015) about a young undocumented Afghan refugee who, through political hip-hop on bridal sales, wins an American university scholarship and thus escapes forced marriage (previously reported in Ny Tid by the undersigned). Also on the feature film front, the theme is thoroughly addressed. The Auction (Zakir Hossain, 2008), dukhtar (Afia Nathaniel, 2014) and Difret (Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, 2014) are just a few examples. The fact that Angelina Jolie Pitt produced the latter is an indication as good as any that the theme is fiery, so to speak lounge-ready. Obviously, there is no shortage of material both from countries where forced marriage is still practiced and among refugees and immigrants who import cultural patterns into their new countries.

Sacrifice love. But as far as I know, no film has so far addressed the wedding traditions of the Bedouin people of Israel. IN Sand Storm We follow a mother and daughter who both get their heads turned and deal with the changes in their own way. Jalila must settle in the new life as her husband's laid-off first wife. Daughter Leyla is studying, has her own mobile phone and gets driving lessons from her father. The young woman apparently enjoys an unusually high degree of freedom compared to the village conventions. But already at his father's second wedding, little sister Tasnim hears that her father plans to marry Leyla to Munir, a man in the same village. When her parents find out that Leyla has a boyfriend at university, she is met with vigorous reprisals and is refused to have more contact with him. But Leyla makes another attempt, inviting her boyfriend home to talk to the father of reason. Saliman gives the girlfriend a polite reception, but does not approve of the alliance – it is taboo for a young woman to find a man on his own initiative outside the village. Jalila challenges the man not to let himself be guided by the village's traditions, and for once, do what he wants, not just what he feels he needs. "Now be a man for once," she mutters. Such a battle is more than Saliman's manhood can withstand. Jalila is banished from the village and has to seek refuge with her bitter mother. Leyla ends up sacrificing her own happiness to save her family. She agrees to marry Munir for Jalila to return to the village. Once again, Tasnim witnesses a wedding night through the window. But in this round, the tone is anything but submissive: Leyla reprimands the newly-baked husband for choosing purple wall paint. A stormy marriage in the dunes awaits.

Intimate and vibrant. The director has worked conscientiously to produce a universally valid story of the conflict between traditional duty and free will in a specific environment among Israel's Bedouins. In recent years, I myself have worked out a film script that deals with characters and cultures far beyond my own horizon – from Romanian prostitutes via Colombian orphanages to western fishermen during World War II. No matter how much research a screenwriter does, the result will always stand or fall on whether the film manages to breathe life into its characters and situations. A work is credible, among other things, through emotional authenticity in dialogue and games, visual details in the surroundings, as well as a good balance between strategic dramaturgy and all the mess and unpredictability that make up reality.
Personally, I usually prefer documentaries rather than feature films when politically charged phenomena such as forced marriage and female oppression are to be produced. Too often, political feature films fall into stereotypical character drawings and a close 1: 1 ratio of messages to events. But Zexer's detailed drama feels intimate and vibrant, while highlighting subtle cultural mechanisms behind gender structures that are often subject to moral condemnation that paves the way for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon.
The pre-pubic boy girl Tasnim is the only one who can move unobstructed and unnoticed between the women's and men's camps. In this way, she becomes an extension of the public's gaze, a witness to the fencing of her own gender. It is up to the public to speculate on what proportions of freedom and duty will affect Tasnim and her Bedouin co-sisters' lives in the near future.

Hilde Susan Jaegtnes
Hilde Susan Jaegtnes
Author and screenwriter for film and television.

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