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RELEASED: 2003, Cert. 15
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 126 mins
DIRECTOR: Vadim Perelman
PRODUCERS: Vadim Perelman & Michael London
SCREENPLAY: Vadim Perelman & Shawn Lawrence Otto
MUSIC: James Horner
Jennifer Connelly as Kathy
Ben Kingsley as Behrani
Ron Eldard as Leser
Shohreh Aghashloo as Nadi
Jonathan Ahdout as Esmail
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Based on Andre Dubus III's novel which I assume bears the same title, House Of Sand And Fog tells the story of Iranian ex-military man Amir Bhrani fleeing his country, taking his wife Nadi and teenage son Esmail to the USA.
Kathy, who is separated from her husband, has an erroneous eviction order placed upon her by the local authorities. Her house is therefore sold at a very low price to Bhrani, whose intention is to carry out some refurbishments then sell it on at an inflated price in order to make a huge profit.
A very distraught and now homeless Kathy is befriended by Leser, a rookie police officer who is immediately attracted to her, as well as having problems with his marriage.
The storyline then unfolds gradually, uncovering lots of complexities with some quite unusual twists and turns.
Whilst watching the opening scenes of House Of Sand And Fog, I was rather bemused as to how on earth anybody could make a decent film out of the subject of a woman's house being mistakenly possessed by the authorities and sold to an Iranian family. However, as I continued to watch, this seemingly shaky storyline evolved into a spectacular and highly emotive drama.
The acting by the whole main cast is absolutely superb, spot on and flawless. It is difficult to choose a favourite, but if you held a gun to my head, I'd plump for Ben Kingsley who put his heart and soul into the role of a very proud ex-military man who has fixed his sights onto what he wants, and is stubbornly immovable. Kingsley managed to pull some amazing expressions on his face as he lurched from one emotion to pretty much all of the others, to the point where whilst watching him, I became so involved in his character that I almost forgot he was an actor simply playing a role. I have no idea if Kingsley received any kind of award for his portrayal of Behrani, but if he didn't, he in my opinion certainly should have done. Jennifer Connelly is also excellent as Kathy, the harassed young woman who is doing everything in her power, with the help of rookie Leser, to reclaim the house which was left to her and her brother by their late father.
The music - well at least the parts of it that I noticed - is fairly typical for a drama film, being orchestral in nature, hiking up and down mood-wise in accordance with what is happening on the screen at any given time.
House Of Sand And Fog is a film which initially may seem a bit bland, but I'd urge any potential viewer to stick with it, because what at first appears to be a boring subject with little or no potential for expansion, opens out into an intensely emotional roller-coaster ride as Kathy and Behrani struggle to not just stand their own ground, but to also understand one another's moral stance, which isn't easy as the huge cultural differences between east and west put up some very powerful barriers against compromise.
I suppose it's a bit of a 'for the want of a nail' type of story, in that although Kathy's situation is dire due to her being rendered homeless, it initially appears as if both she and Behrani are squabbling over insignificancies, neither being prepared to give way....but, it soon becomes clear why each party views their own position as more valid than the other, and those reasons run deep.
The thing which stands out most for me is the dilemma which arises in that neither Behrani or Kathy are nasty people, and they do both have high moral standards which sometimes allow them to cohere yet at other times cause them to severely clash, headlong. Also, and despite Kathy turning to cop Leser and being very grateful for his help - as well as them both falling in love with one another - he perhaps is more of a hindrance than a help to anybody's plight.
As the situation over who is entitled to be the rightful owner to the house and who isn't escalates, things spiral out of control when all sorts of difficult emotions are let loose. The 'on the surface' viewer may feel that the expression of these emotions and what they evolve into is a case of people making a lot of fuss about very little, but I think it's worthwhile to look into the grey areas of the film and try to understand why each character behaves in the way that they do.
Some people might find House Of Sand And Fog a bit difficult to watch in parts, as it does spiral into some very black emotional places, but I suppose it depends on how comfortable anybody is when facing up to and accepting life's darker avenues....avenues which, being in the right place at the right time (or should I say the wrong place at the wrong time?) can swallow up even the most hardy amongst us.
I don't think that the issue of who should or shouldn't be entitled to own the house is what matters here. The crux and essence of the film is about human feelings, and how seemingly small acts can ricochet into something major that can have a devastating effect on all concerned. Another interesting concept for me in House Of Sand And Fog is that whoever may be right or wrong - and maybe both parties are each a bit right and a bit wrong but for different reasons - everybody was acting in a way that they thought to be right, yet at the end of the day, perhaps nobody was right or wrong....merely different....and this film handles all of these issues, and more, with nothing short of supreme brilliance.
House Of Sand And Fog is what I'd call a creepingly powerful film, in that the intensity builds up slowly, yet when all the stops are pulled out, various consequences of people's beliefs and actions push the drama boat into some brilliantly acted, but uncomfortable to watch scenarios.
In summary, House Of Sand And Fog definitely isn't a film to watch if you want a bit of light entertainment, high-jinx action or a romp, as it couldn't be further from those, but if you like intense, gravely serious, thought-provoking dramas which examine the human condition and turn it inside-out, then this could be something which you'd find very emotional and moving....plus, I promise to the slush-bucket cynics (of which I unashamedly am), that the levels of gooey sentimentality and mawkishness are absolutely zero. This is a deep, powerful, thoughtful and intelligently probing film.
At the time of writing, House Of Sand And Fog can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £8.59 to £24.99
Used: from £1.09 to £22.88
Some items on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG DVD
Actors: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley, Ron Eldard, Frances Fisher, Kim Dickens,Shohreh Aghdashloo,Jonathan Ahdout
Directors: Vadim Perelman
Writers: Vadim Perelman, Andre Dubus III, Shawn Lawrence Otto
Chris Soldo, Jeremiah Samuels, Michael London, Nina R. Sadowsky
Language: English, Persian
Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
Number of discs: 1
DVD Release Date: 23 Aug 2004
Run Time: 126 minutes
CURRENT PRICE £8.94 BUT COPIES AVAILABLE SECONDHAND FROM £1.36 FROM AMAZON
When I was browsing through my local charity shop where I had dropped off some DVDs, I did my usual pastime and had a look through their "for sale" pile and something caught my eye. House of Sand and Fog had a front cover that really attracted me, as it had a scene depicting two characters overlaid with a broken mirror style façade that fanned over the images. This heavily suggested broken relationships and drama, and so last night I decided to watch this. However I was simply not prepared for the outstanding film that followed, which has to be one of the most incredible stories I have ever seen, coupled with superb acting by every character contained within it.
This film by the Russian film maker Vadim Perelman is based on the novel by Andre Dubus III. I haven't read this book myself so am unable to compare it to the film, but all accounts I have read suggest that it follows closely the events portrayed in the text.
Starring Ben Kingsley who plays a very proud Iranian ex colonel - Massoud Amir Behrani, the story tells the tale of how, after fleeing Iran after the collapse of the monarchy, he seeks refuge in America where he lives with his wife and son. The wife is uncomfortable in her new country, and speaks very little English, and does not leave the house at all in the scenes that are shown, as she lives the life of a kept woman. Unaware of her husband's predicament as he works two menial jobs to pay their way, she simply plays the role of a women in tow supportive of her husband but completely naïve to their situation.
At the same time a desperate woman Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly), has been in such despair following the separation from her husband 8 months before. So low is her mood that she has let the unopened mail pile up behind her door, and the opening scenes show the tragedy that occurs when she is evicted for the non paying of business taxes, which turns out to be an error by the authorities. This leads to her house being sold for peanuts, and seizing the opportunity to purchase the property, make some improvements, and resell it for a mega profit, Massoud buys the house leaving Kathy homeless and living out of her car.
The story that follows cannot be predicted by anyone as it is a unique set of events that is complicated by the involvement between Kathy and one of the police officers who originally came with the authorities to evict her from the property. To see events unfold you must watch the film - but be prepared- the events will shock and horrify and I am still affected this morning but what I saw last night.
From the first moments of the film I was captivated. There was something so convincing about the way that the Iranian family came across as being so proud of their homeland and dependant on the father figure to provide for them. The wife Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is in fact Iranian, and so her accent and mannerisms are perfect, from her sudden stern outbursts in Persian to her frequent appearances with cups of tea in ornate pots she is every bit the perfect wife, but it is the way that Ben Kingsley acts in his role as the father that blows me away. He has this air of aloof detachment that leaves little room for emotion for most of the film until the final scenes, and it is this contrast which is so convincing between a man who swallows all his feelings and then lets them go. He is like a volcano- every so often a fissure starts to smoulder, and then quiet reigns for a few days. His son Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout) is adored by his father, and he plays a superb role as the fourteen year old boy in the shadow of the great and respected family controller. All three play outstanding roles.
Jennifer Connelly plays a superb role as Kathy as she battles to stay on track, but with a history of alcohol addiction and her family miles away she is lost and isolated. She puts her trust in a new relationship that starts to develop between her and Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard) a policeman, who becomes intertwined with her situation that comes to his attention just as his own marriage is failing. Both of these characters are outstanding and plausible.
What strikes me so profoundly is the method by which this film highlights the way that events can happen as a result of mistakes that no-one could predict. The film is set in San Francisco and the weather here changes from sun to fog with regularity, and this change of weather adds to the atmosphere as the house is bathed in sunlight one minute, and encased in gloomy mist the next. This weather is a symbol to me of the emotional turmoil that hits you as events unfold. It is a roller-coaster of twists and turns as characters try to gain what is respectfully and rightfully theirs.
The DVD extras are excellent, and they offer a superb insight into the film. They include interviews with all the main characters, as well as background detail about how the story came about, and the relationship between the film and the book of the same name. This section is absolutely fascinating, and it brings the characters alive - it was incredible to learn that the actress who plays the Iranian wife was actually living in Iran before the collapse of the monarchy herself, and was delighted to be offered this role as she had virtually withdrawn from film after moving to America, as she was always being offered terrorist roles which she hated.
Every attention to detail that could be made has been made in this film, from the Iranian dress and furniture at the height of luxury, to the degradation and filth that comes with deep despair and losing yourself to addiction. There is nothing lacking in this production of tragedy that is as raw as an open wound
This is a tragic tale that will shock and impact your feelings long after the final credits roll. It is the marriage of two worlds each battling to hold onto what is theirs. The final credit has to be to Ben Kingsley who is the master of this film- the leader of the orchestra- in the drama that shatters dreams and wrecks emotions. However you can't forget his wife Nadi- (Shohreh Aghdashloo) who is his rock all through this turmoil, and who plays a woman who gives so much, in exchange for protection from the world, but who never gets the chance to have her opinions or wishes heard. She is locked in an ivory tower - a house of cards- but when one card falls........
This review is also published on Ciao under my user name Violet1278
"House of Sand and Fog" is a film that captivates the audience and remains intriguing because of a simple reason that it never takes sides. By continuing to have a solidly neutral tone that never favours one side over the other, the final emotional punch is far more effective, since we hear both sides to a very complicated story, with incredibly deep insight into the various characters tangled up in one complex situation. There is plenty of opportunity for the film to sway, using racism, sexism or other isms to root for one side. But director Vadim Perelman never falls into the trap of showing someone more sympathy or compassion than he/she really deserves. It never praises nor does it ever condemn the character's choices; it portrays them as they are, as imperfect human beings who are capable of making mistakes, and humans who are flawed. We are never forced to agree with them, but it gives us the chance to understand them: what makes them so driven and desperate. And it asks the question, how much are we willing to sacrifice for our desires and ambitions? How far do we go to see justice served?
A real-estate error is exploded out of proportion when a series of misunderstandings overturn the living situations of several key characters. Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly) is going through a rough period - she has been abandoned by her husband and she is a depressed individual, with no passion or urge to go on in life. She has been ignoring several notices informing her of an imminent eviction, something to do with her failing to pay business taxes. A massive mix-up for sure, since Kathy in fact owes nothing to the government. Her property is wrestled away from her and within a few seconds, Kathy is left homeless. Massoud Behrani (Ben Kingsley) is a family man and a man of dreams. He wants to provide for his wife Nadereh (Shoreh Aghdashloo) and his son Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout). Ever since his family left Iran, he gave up his job as a colonel in the Iranian Army, and his reputation to live in San Francisco. He has been saving up for his family with his many insignificant jobs and one day he stumbles upon an auction for Kathy's house. Purchasing the house for a very cheap price, a quarter of its original price to be exact, he wishes to renovate it to sell it off for a much larger profit. So this means war - since Kathy wants her house back, which was rightfully hers from the start and Massoud will do anything to protect his family's future and wants nothing to do with this head-spinning situation that occurred through absolutely no fault of his own.
Should Kathy be penalised for ignoring those notices? They should not have been in her house in the first place so to be fair, the government is to blame for all this mess. Should we hate Massoud for wanting to seize what he views as rightfully his? He purchased the house, grabbed himself a bargain and a huge investment, something that cannot come around very often and so why should he want to let go? Just because the government made a huge error, he should give up on his dreams? It's difficult to decide who should ultimately get the house and to win, both sides resort to confrontation, intimidation and manipulation. Help is at hand for Kathy though, as Deputy Sheriff Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard), obviously acting on his feelings towards Kathy, starts providing support. The two share an intimate relationship, fuelling passion and overwhelming emotions that lead to an unexpected and rash decision. Like they say, love is blind.
Whenever the characters from both sides face each other, it always leads to an intense scene. Connelly beautifully portrays the infinite amount of her character's personal struggles, the weak and vulnerable woman whose house meant everything to her. Kingsley approaches his role with a threatening tone, as the stubborn family man with strict, narrow-minded ideals. On the other hand his wife Nadereh is the quieter, often soft-spoken person in the family who respects, but not always agrees with, her husband. Aghdashloo makes a stellar Hollywood debut with her stunning performance. When she's the repressed housewife, she offers a quieter, much calmer counterpart to Massoud's often fiery temper but she's not the type who always sits by - she does occasionally explode with a long, dizzyingly rapid monologue which mixes a hefty amount of both Iranian and English.
Tragedy ensues as so many characters fall apart and if you're looking for an uplifting film, stay well away from this one: a film that shows the downfalls of human beings all too well and clearly. Anchored by exceptional performances, "House of Sand and Fog" is an engrossing story of how something that seemed so small and trivial at the beginning can in fact turn into a total meltdown for the simple reason that people were careless. The ending is beyond powerful and packs in the emotional blast to its maximum potential. Some viewers will strongly agree with one side and be furious at the other. Supporting the Behrani family will have you complaining about the whiny, helpless Kathy, whereas supporting Kathy will no doubt arouse anger at the blatant injustice and general stubbornness of Massoud. But always remember to be open-minded and patient with the characters. After all, isn't that the lesson this film is trying to teach us?
I don't remember why, but when House of Sand and Fog was released in 2003, I immediately liked the sound of it. Maybe it was the intriguing title, maybe it was because it has Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly in it, maybe because it's got an actress called Shoreh Aghdashloo in it (isn't that such a great name?) Whatever the reason, I've only just got round to watching it. Was it worth the wait?
Connelly stars as Kathy, a young American woman who wakes up one morning, only to find out that her lakeside bungalow is being repossessed because she's been ignoring her bills. She is forced to move, and the house is immediately put up for auction.
Meanwhile, Behrani, an Iranian immigrant (Ben Kingsley) is looking to make some money to support his family and so that he doesn't have to keep working low-paid jobs all the time. When he sees the house going, he snaps it up, hoping that by adding a balcony he can sell it on for four times what he paid.
However, Kathy and her lawyer are mounting a challenge to get the house back, claiming that the repossession was a mistake and that she doesn't actually owe any money. To help with this, she has the support of one of the police officers who evicted her (played by Ron Eldard). They've started seeing each other even though he's married with two children, and he's been helping her find a place to sleep in the absence of her house.
Naturally, Behrani will not give the house up lightly. He argues that he fairly and legally bought the house, and that he needs it to give his wife (Aghdashloo) and son a better life. As the pair become increasingly frustrated, tensions escalate and events spiral out of control, until eventually, one side will have to give way.
House of Sand and Fog is a modern tragedy, if ever I saw one. As events deepen and all the characters start to go too far in their battle for the house, you can tell that there isn't going to be a compromise or indeed a happy ending for both sides. And this is made all the more difficult by the direction of first timer Vadim Perelman - he presents both sides in almost equally neutral light. Neither the Iranian family or Kathy are totally clean or perfect, but nor does either deserve to lose out, so our loyalties are split, and the characters are sympathetic enough to keep the audience's interest. Well, apart from the policeman, he wasn't very likeable.
I found the film hard to take my eyes off for the first hour and a half - the tension just kept building up slowly and relentlessly, and this was helped by the fairly slow and artistic way the film is shot. Nothing feels rushed or forced, the characters are both given plenty of screen time, and the story is broken up by atmospheric and beautiful scenes of the surrounding landscape, including that foreboding fog of the title which shrouds the landscape.
However, the events of the last half hour spiral out of control a bit too much, or at least too suddenly. It does become slightly unrealistic, especially the parts of the story involving the policeman's actions, which were neither justifiable, sympathetic nor wholly convincing.
However, these events are still capable of emotional impact thanks to the excellent work that had been done to flesh out the characters. The performances from Kingsley and Aghdashloo were both Oscar nominated (Kingsley understandably, Aghdashloo perhaps less so in my opinion), and Jennifer Connelly knows by now how to do breakdowns - just look at her Oscar-winning performance in A Beautiful Mind for that - so she is as good as ever.
Meanwhile, a little bit of trivia for you - if you watched the fourth series of 24 you might get a feeling of déjà vu if you watch this. Shoreh Aghdashloo and Jonathan Ahdout (the son) both starred in that series, again playing mother and son! Now I know why they were so believable in 24; they'd already had practice!
Anyway, is House of Sand and Fog worth watching? Yes, it is, as long as you can do tragedy. It's not quite as bleak and devastating as Requiem for a Dream (jeez, Connelley knows how to pick 'em) but it is a little bit depressing, and rightly so. Sometimes you need a film to be bleak and realistic - life just isn't like a box of chocolates.
For his debut film, Perelman handles this very impressively, and he should be someone to watch out for the future. With excellent performances from Kingsley and Connelly, and a very good one from Aghdashloo, House of Sand and Fog is a slow-burning but gripping drama, marred only slightly by a bit of implausibility.
House of Sand and Fog is available from www.sendit.com for the good price of £4.89.
Directed by: Vadim Perelman
Ben Kingsley ... Behrani
Jennifer Connelly ... Kathy
Shoreh Aghdashloo ... Nadi
Ron Eldard ... Lester
Jonathan Ahdout ... Esmail
Classification: 15 (some violence/disturbing images, language and a scene of sexuality)
Running time: 126 minutes
My rating: 8/10
I had no idea what to expect when I started watching this film (I'll confess right now I only picked it up 'cause I think Jennifer Connelly rules as an actor. OK, she's nice to look at too). Better yet, by half way through the film I still had no idea of how it would end. I love films like that.
The basic plot is a woman (Connelly) losing her house because she owes taxes but doesn't bother reading the mail informing her of this.
The house is then purchased by Ben Kingsley's character, a man who recognises a bargin when he sees it.
The woman cannot accept she has lost the house and attempts to get it back.
Both are also living a lie, presenting a false face to the world while trying to deal with the reality of their situations.
The stage is then set for what is to follow.
The weather features prominently as a mood metaphor/barometer in the film. In the first half of the film, the house is shown bathed in sunshine. Later it is always dark and wreathed in fog.
The two main protagonists are both (at least in their own minds) right in their claim to the house and for the first half of the film we can identify with both of them. It is only in the second half, when the action takes a darker tone and the sense of impending inevitable disaster starts to appear, that the viewer's loyalty become lopsided (often only to switch back to the other character depending on what is happening to them).
Due to this skilful manipulation of emotions of the director, you still don't know who things are going to turn out (really, really) bad for (or how).
The end of the movie is heavy. Connelly and Kingsley's characters' unyielding righteousness and pride leads to misunderstood motivations escalating an increasingly ugly situation. Distrust of different cultures' values (Kingsley's movie family are Iranian and Moslem) is also explored (via a lunkhead cop in love with and trying to impress Tilley's character).
This is one of those increasingly rare occasions when a mainstream Hollywood movie goes out on a limb and delivers something special. Even better, they don't feel the need to wrap things up neatly with a contrived happy ending. In the last third of the film, nothing is telegraphed as to what will happen next making the sequence of events even sadder for their inevitable logic.
Yeah, it's depressing, emotionally shattering and several times you just want to slap (or worse) some characters faces for being such idiots.
The acting from all supporting parties concerned is fantastic (except for the guy who plays the cop. There's nothing wrong with his performance but he just comes across as emotionally out of his depth when performing with actors of such gravitas as the two leads).
I haven't read the book on which this is based so have no idea how faithful the adaptation is. This is about as un-uplifting as filmmaking gets but has important things to say about responsibility, pride and ethics. Highly recommended.