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House of Sand and Fog (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None yet listed

YOU have to applaud a film that refuses to manipulate its audience, particularly when the temptation to take sides is so strong, given its themes of lost dreams, property and immigration.

Yet one of The House of Sand and Fog’s greatest virtues is the way in which it wrestles with audience emotions, presenting viewers with three flawed characters, who are as tragic, as they are, at times, difficult to like.

Take Sir Ben Kingsley’s Massoud Amir Behrani, for instance, a former colonel in the Iranian Air Force, now forced to work a series of menial jobs to maintain an illusion of affluence, who sees a small, coastal bungalow in North California as his last chance to bring back the prosperity his family once knew.

He is a proud man, an honest man and a dedicated family leader; a warrior stripped of his dignity, whose passion for the property frequently clouds his better judgement.

For the home in question also represents the shattered dreams of its former owner, Jennifer Connelly’s Kathy Nicolo, who inherited it from her father, but whose life has been undermined by her battle against drug addiction and her husband’s decision to walk out on her.

She, too, is maintaining an illusion, and the house represents her last vestige of hope for reclaiming a life that has all but been lost to depression.

When a bureaucratic error forces her eviction, however, Kathy is left homeless and powerless to stop the property being sold to Behrani for a fraction of its worth; but resolves to do all she can to get it back, resorting to increasingly desperate methods after the legal process fails her.

Enlisting the help of new boyfriend, Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard), a deputy sheriff who has taken pity on her, and who has left his family in the hope of restarting his own life as a result, Kathy begins to fight back, prompting a clash of personalities and cultures which can only end in heartbreak and tragedy.

Based on the acclaimed best-seller by Andre Dubus III, the House of Sand and Fog marks an astonishing film debut from director, Vadim Perelman, who embraces its themes with a clarity rarely witnessed in mainstream Hollywood.

Both Behrani and Kathy represent deeply flawed people, but while their actions can be judged by viewers in terms of good or bad, their characters remain sympathetic, as their motivations are so identifiable that they defy similar such easy judgements.

It is a neat trick by Perelman who, by refusing to come down on any one side, keeps viewers alert throughout, forcing them to arrive at their own conclusions, while ensuring that the film’s shocking finale carries more impact.

By also making the property in question a rather ordinary home, the house works far better as a representation of his characters’ dreams, rather than one of materialism, making this a strictly human tussle from beginning to end.

It also allows the power of the performances to shine through, with Sir Ben Kingsley, especially, in breathtaking form as Behrani, and Connelly and Eldard delivering equally note-worthy and impassioned turns.

The House of Sand and Fog, while difficult to watch and certainly depressing, is a truly riveting experience, which presents its moral conundrums in an honest, sincere and intelligent manner.

It is memorably acted, memorably directed and possesses a haunting quality that is virtually guaranteed to stay with the viewer long after the final exchanges have been made.

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