Pluses and minuses (see below)
Positive review: Adapted from Marc Durin-Valois' prize-winning novel Chamelle by Belgian director Hänsel, Sounds of Sand/Si le vent soulève les sables is the beautiful and moving saga of a little family somewhere in Africa forced to leave home and struggle eastward across the desert with their livestock in search of water. Along the way they endure great loss, danger, cruelty, and heartbreak. This film dramatizes many of the demographic and human problems that face the African continent: drought, revolution, lawlessness, poverty, homelessness. Hänsel's powerful visual storytelling makes all these things real to us, while bringing alive the drama of human beings. Images are striking, and so are the people, and all the actors are fine, particularly the father, Rahne, played by Isaka Sawadogo and his little daughter, Shasha, played by Asma Nouman Aden. Music is used deftly and economically. This is committed narrative film-making at its best. It brings home major issues but never seems preachy or doctrinaire. At the end, what remains of the family winds up in a UN camp. "This is my Pouzzi," says Sasha, using her pet name for her father. "He looks sad because he has lost his camel." The viewer will remember a series of striking, pathetic tableaux. A heartrending and vividly told tale.
Negative review: Shot in Djibouti, Hänsel's film attempts to be universal by being unspecific in locale and by casting the dialogue by all and sundry entirely in rather academic French. Everything is generic and sanitized. If the family is desperately short of water, how come they have full wardrobes of immaculately clean clothes and are perfectly clean themselves? At the outset Rahne meets another man who says they should travel together because it's safer that way. "Yes," Rahne says, "we will travel together. We will leave before dawn to take advantage of the coolness." It's stilted elementary primer language. Even religious phrases that sound Muslim, like "God wishes it so," are said in French, when likely they would be said in Arabic. A bunch of wild looking outlaws speak the same academic French. An online viewer wrote that this is "a romanticized film made by a middle aged western woman aimed at...middle aged western women" and added, "naturally in the end the main characters get saved by white people from the West." And this is true. Hänsel uses the authentic setting and real-looking African actors to make us naive westerners believe that we're watching something real, but it's a downbeat fairy tale, none of which is true to a specific and coherent whole. Sawadogo, by the way, has lived in Norway for the last fifteen years.
©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/