God's Sandbox

Like the recent film Smile, God's Sandbox is a movie with a definite social agenda.  Each film wants to serve as an educational piece to bring more publicity around their respective issue, and to serve as an emotional anchor that will allow people in America or elsewhere to relate to the events.  Smile was about correctable facial deformities in China, and God's Sandbox is about female genital mutilation in the Middle East.  Unlike Smile, God's Sandbox looks and feels at times like softcore pornography.  There is a weird duality in this film.  It starts as a steamy love story, then veers near the end towards the weightier subject matter.  These two subjects do not necessarily mesh well, and director Doran Eran (Freedom:  The Voice of Ein-Harord, Flash) does a pretty bad job of putting them together. 

God's Sandbox doesn't work because of a few issues.  The acting is a bit melodramatic.  The actors often speak in English, which is not their native tongue.  If God's Sandbox were entirely in Arabic and Hebrew, it would have improved things.  Eran and screenwriters Yoav (Primal Justice, Layla Lavan) and Hanita Havley also use awkward flashbacks to let the story unfold.  In the present day, the story takes place on a vacation resort, where Liz (Razia Israeli, Dreams of Innocence, Schindler's List) goes to retrieve her daughter Rachel (Orli Perl, Open Heart, Afula Express).  The two had some sort of falling out, and Rachel does not want to return.
Liz is very uncomfortable in the heat, and wants to leave.  Instead, Mustafa (Sami Samir, The Body, Yellow Asphalt) begins to tell the story, which leads into the flashbacks about a vacationing woman falling madly in love with a Bedouin.  The odd part is, while Eran avoids revealing who the woman it, her identity is blatantly obvious by the way that Mustafa stares at Liz, and the way she looks away.  In the past, Layla (Meital Dohan, To Dance, Giraffes) is vacationing.  A young Mustafa develops a crush on this beautiful, free-spirited woman.
Layla also catches the eye of Nagim (Juliano Mer, Kedma, Kippur), the handsome son of a sheik.  Against the wishes of his father, Nagim pursues Layla.  His father is horrified.  After al, Layla is a Western woman who dresses and dances indecently, and worse, is not a part of their religion.  He disowns Nagim, who then travels with Layla and the two have lots of sex.  As trite as that last sentence sounds, that is what happens for a good chunk of the film.  In the present, it becomes more obvious that Layla and Liz are the same person, it's just a matter of waiting to see how events play out. 
Then, from nowhere, Eran drastically changes the tone of God's Sandbox.  While visiting Nagim's uncle, Layla witnesses an act of female genital mutilation.  She is extremely distressed, but nobody seems to care that much.  It is part of their culture.  This event takes the film into a horrifying new direction.  The mutilation scenes themselves are surprisingly powerful, even given the fact that Eran does not show anything.  This part of God's Sandbox is, for all intents and purposes, a different movie.  It is better than the first two-thirds, but is much too short.  Moreover, the past does not tie in well with the present. It is an unnecessary plot device.  If Eran expanded the last third of the film and focused more on the story, God's Sandbox would be a much more powerful film.
Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 26 minutes, Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles, Not Rated but includes nudity, sexuality, and torture, an easy R.

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