House of Sand And Fog - An Unforgettable, Excruciatingly Tragic Movie

                              What happens when a dream turns into a nightmare? The American dreams are built on the basis of financial independence and home ownership. For some it's a place of refuge and comfort, or it's some sort of investment. For others, it's a key to identity and a link to the past. "House of Sand and Fog," adapted from Andre Dubus 1999 novel tells the sad story of two people on two edges of the American Dream. Like Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River" or Innaritu's "21 Grams," this is one of the movies that try to harvest the terror and grandeur of classical tragedy from the everyday sorrows of contemporary American life.

                               In the mainstream cinema, we always have the division between good and evil. It's rare to come across a movie, where you don't know which side is right, where it is terribly difficult to form an alliance on one side or the other. Vadim Perelman’s House of Sand and Fog goes against all by setting up a bleak conflict with two opposing sides and refusing to align with one or the other.

        Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley) is a proud, honest, Iranian immigrant, is the sort of person the American dream was designed for. He has moved to the United States a number of years ago with his wife, Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and his son, Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout). He was once a air force colonel, but was forced to flee, when the ruler was deposed. Exhausted from his night job as a clerk in a convenience store, Behrani decides to buy a property at an auction. His idea was to make some improvements and re-sell  it at market value, so that he can raise the cash to buy another house and have enough left over to fund his son's college education.

              The house in question, belonged to Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly). Her husband had left her eight months ago and has spent most of her time in bed, depressed. She never cared about the mail, where she would have found letters from the county to take possession of the house and put it up for auction if she doesn't pay her tax bill. It's also partially the county’s fault too. The taxes imposed against her were a mistake, and they were for only $500, hardly enough to justify repossessing a house. When she finds out that her house was already purchased by Behrani, she realizes to her dismay that she has lost in a few months what her father took 30 years to pay off.

                 Kathy views Behrani as a thief and calls him that to his face. She also finds consolation in the person of a sympathetic and married police offer, Lester Burton (Ron Eldard), who chooses to help her by harassing Behrani and threatening his family. Instead of settling the matters, this deepens the tensions.

                 Ben Kingsley as Massoud Behrani is a perfect fit for the character: Kingsley's clean-cut physique and air of intense focus could not be better suited to Behrani's tightly wound sense of honor and his latent violence. Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo plays Nadi Behrani, with so much dignity and heart. Jonathan Ahdout gives a moving performance as a good-hearted, Americanized son. Connelly as Kathy is well suited to her role. She channels an inner despondency that is heartbreaking, and presents Kathy as a deeply wounded bird, but one who is still capable of fighting. 

                  Russian-born Vadim Perlman in his debut feature-film has executed "House of Sand and Fog" with admirable dexterity, infusing each event with almost unbearable tension and foreboding. He draws upon a vast source of human emotion, and brings out to our attention some of the more demanding themes, the meaning of home, the downward mobility of a woman, and the yearning for upward mobility of an immigrant who wants to escape the menial jobs. The film, shot by Roger Deakins, has a elegant, melancholic look and a style that might best be described as tactful. 

                 Each of the characters in the drama is flawed but capable of love, self-sacrifice, and kindness. We might find ourselves shifting allegiances between Behrani and Kathy as they try to cope with the conflict that draws them together in a circle of anger, love, loss, and recrimination. The story by author Andre Dubus III doesn't easily paint its characters, constantly making us reflect on exactly what shade of gray our eyes are actually seeing. Both Behrani's family and Kathy holds compassion and decency, and seem to concord that no house is worth a human life, which makes the heavily foreshadowed final tragedy especially painful and powerful. 

                House of Sand And Fog is a challenging motion for the viewers. It exacts much from the audience, and repays that investment with engrossing drama that does not offer insulting, eloquent answers. The movie says that, if the simplest of solutions can’t be agreed upon, then a pound of flesh may be the next step. House of Sand And Fog, with its excellent performances, is a heavy flick made for grown-ups to savor. 



Mithil said...

Absolutely loved the movie when I saw it about 5 yrs back. Ben kingsley and connelly display such wide range of emotions. The interest builds up with every passing minute. Grt review.

Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

I'm yet to watch this film. Will check it and return with a comment :)

Arun Kumar said...

@Mithil, Thanks for the comment. Yeah, great performances from the two Oscar winners.

@Haricharan, Would love to hear your view on the movie.