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HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG

SYNOPSIS:
A wrecked marriage and drinking problems behind her, Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly) inherits her fatherís house in the Bay Area of San Francisco but soon loses it when former Iranian army Colonel Behrani (Ben Kingsley) buys it for a pittance from the local council which, in a bureaucratic bungle, confiscated it. Behrani moves in, refurbishes, and plans to use it as the first rung on the home-ownership ladder, as he and his long-suffering wife (Shohreh Aghdashloo) aspire to the higher social standing they once enjoyed in Iran, but have since only dreamt about. Kathy and Behrani are each adamant to win the ensuing battle. Local cop Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard), with kindness and/or lust in his heart, takes to Kathyís cause, leaves his wife and tries to be a single handed arm of justice, as he sees it, with terrible consequences.


Review by Louise Keller:
A fiercely powerful and melancholy tale about dreams, aspirations and belonging, House of Sand and Fog is a marvellous adaptation. The catalyst for the two separate stories about two very different people whose lives intersect, is a house. It may only be a rather ordinary looking house shrouded by a perpetual mist that boasts a small ocean view, but itís what it symbolises to both Colonel Behrani and Kathy Nicolo that makes it so special. 

Russian born director / screenwriter Vadim Perelman makes a spectacular directing debut, adapting Andre Dubus IIIís international bestseller in such a way that it completely retains the integrity of the novel. And thatís not an easy achievement for a novel that is told through the eyes and perspectives of both key characters.

The film introduces us to the characters and their predicaments by juxtaposition, jerking us from one reality to another in quick succession. This, in itself sets up tension, escalating slowly and surely until it screams with no mercy into its shattering conclusion. Ben Kingsley was always in the authorís mind as he wrote the character of Colonel Behrani, and there is no doubt he was born to play the role of the proud Iranian immigrant forced to resort to menial work to support his family. Kingsleyís performance is flawless, delivering the kind of complexity that on one hand effects loathing, but on another promotes the most overwhelming heartbreak and compassion. From the profound sadness in his eyes as he farewells his daughter at her wedding, to the steely harshness that results in physical violence, Kingsley takes us on a devastating emotional journey. ĎA father can dream,í he muses. To Behrani, the house is the symbol of his dreams: the home to replace the one lost in his homeland and the pivot to unify his family. 

To Jennifer Connellyís emotionally barren Kathy, the house symbolises stability and the family she no longer has. Connelly imbues this lost character with such tenacity that we feel giddy. The entire cast is superb, but special mention goes to Iranian stage and screen star Shohreh Aghdashloo, whose subservient, compassionate wife evokes a spontaneous response every time she appears on screen. House of Sand and Fog is melancholy at its most potent. Every ingredient contributes to the mix: James Hornerís subdued yet piercing score, Roger Deakinsí wonderful cinematography (I love the way the scene is shot as Behraniís son cowers under the bed covers, intent on avoiding a confrontation with his father), and the effective contrast of styles of Kathyís nomadic life with the elaborate and formal ornateness of the Behraniís. 

Passion simmers relentlessly under the surface and as the detonation of the climax begins, there is enough emotional torment to tear your heart out. A haunting and potent film not to be missed.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Three or more years before this filmís Australian theatrical release, after a nice lunch, the publisher at Hodder Headline Australia, Lisa Highton, handed me a copy of Andre Dubus IIIís novel which she had brought back from a recent book trade fair, saying, ďThisíll make a wonderful film one dayÖ.Ē I devoured the book and recalled that conversation when we saw a preview of the film together in January 2004. Lisa had been tracking the project, as they say, and was looking forward to the big screen presentation. She had heard that at one stage the film may have ďgone straight to videoĒ perceived as perhaps being Ďtoo smallí Ė whatever that means. That decision would have gone down in the history of cinema as one of the most timid and tragic. 

Like the book, the film tackles the human experience with deft, often stunning punches to the emotional solar plexus. A story that seems even simpler in the screen telling, it is nonetheless far from simplistic; the human complexities pile one on top of the other, as do the logistical or structural ones of the story. The compelling nature of it, as if it were drawn from a file of Fawlty Towers proportions but true, resonates with acute observation of character, and the economy of the screenplay is admirable. 

But itís the direction, editing and performances that lift this wonderful work of fiction to a level of filmmaking that is so satisfying. They are all people like us, striving to fulfill dreams big or small (American or otherwise) and stumbling on the trip wires of our ambition, setting off landmines that hurt even the innocent. Ben Kingsley as Behrani and Jennifer Connolly as Kathy are both superb, as are Ron Eldard as Lester Burdon the well meaning policeman, Shoreh Aghdashloo as Behraniís wife and young Jonathan Ahdout as his son. 

You can analyse the filmís subtexts, its symbolism and its moral messages all you like, or you can indulge in fabulous filmmaking just for the sheer joy of the experience. James Hornerís music and Roger Deakinsí cinematography will carry you either way, and if youíve read the book youíll probably be startled by the filmís perfectly pitched tone, recreating the mood that gripped you while reading it.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

FEATURE

HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (M)
(US)

CAST: Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Connelly, Ron Eldard, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jonathan Ahdout, Frances Fisher, Kim Dickens, Navi Rawat

PRODUCER: Michael London, Vadim Perelman

DIRECTOR: Vadim Perelman

SCRIPT: Vadim Perelman, Shawn Larence Otto (novel by Andre Dubus III)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins

EDITOR: Lisa Churgin

MUSIC: James Horner

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Maia Javan

RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 12, 2004







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