Neculai, Aurel and Raj arrived in the U.K. from Romania, all for the same reason: they want better lives for themselves and their families.
Looking to escape the poverty and meager economic prospects at home, they arrive in London, each with their own challenges to overcome and attitude to bolster them up when things get tough.
With their loved ones back at home depending on them, the three survive by practicing an unusual craft: they make sand sculptures, using nothing more than bags of their materials and simple tools to create sculptures of dogs that are surprisingly emotive and expressive — and temporary.
Director Tal Amiran’s short documentary ostensibly focuses on the artisan-like craftsmanship of their captivating, painstaking art. But it also renders the three Romanians’ story and point-of-view in a subtle, almost casual way, thanks to the film’s direct, observational style.
The camera lingers of the grains and curves of sand, capturing the strange, melancholic expressions of the animals created. The process of making these sculptures clearly requires admirable skill and patience, the photography and structure of the short records the works with a clear respect and interest.
Yet there’s no mistaking the difficulty the men face trying to eke out a living on the margins of a wealthy city. Their creations often garner attention and wonder, but the crowds and admirers often overlook the makers themselves.
As a result, “Sand Men” is a quietly provocative, thoughtful and powerful look at art, but also what it means to exist in the margins of a society with extremes highs and lows, where the hard-scrabble are often invisible, even if their labor isn’t.