Outside of dudes killing dudes, there's little the moviegoers seem to love more than weddings, a truth that Elite Zexer's heartsick desert drama Sand Storm exploits for a first-act sucker punch. The nuptials that teen Layla (Lamis Ammar) is driving her father Suliman (Hitham Omari) toward, the frame of a bed jouncing in the back of his Toyota pickup, turn out to be his own — and he's already married to Layla's mom. Before the ceremony, their Bedouin friends and family assemble that bed frame, to be broken in by Suliman and his new, much younger wife; meanwhile, the older women sit sternly in a private, no-men-allowed ritual with false mustaches, comic and mysterious and Groucho-thick.
Zexer, who wrote and directed, leaves it to you to tease meaning out of that. Publicly, their mother Jalila (Ruba Blal-Asfour) takes all this as a matter of course, but alone with Layla she's cold and furious. She gets a chance to vent it at Layla upon discovering that the girl has been consorting with a boy from outside the tribe, a dreamy beauty from her school. Jalila dresses down that kid (Jalal Masrwa) when he calls Layla's cellphone, one of the several modern indulgences that might give you hope that Layla isn't herself facing a life of arranged marriage within this community. But no. Her father has a man in mind for her.
In short, Zexer's film -- scraped of sentiment but coursing with feeling -- is an ethnographic melodrama, rich in cultural specifics but also universal longings. It suggests, in Layla's minor freedoms, the way those with power allow minor changes while still not yielding on what matters most to them.