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House of Sand and Fog

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 07/18/04 21:47:52

"A tragedy of Shakespearean proportions."
5 stars (Awesome)

House of Sand and Fog is a modern-day tragedy, as gripping as any Shakespearean drama, as heartbreaking as any Verdian opera.

Jennifer Connelly is Kathy Lazaro, a recovering addict who becomes homeless due to a bureaucratic error on the part of the San Francisco County tax assessor's office. Ben Kingsley is the proud Colonel Massoud Amir Behrani, who, with his family has fled Iran under the regime of the Ayatollah, and who buys Kathy's house at auction then refuses to sell it back to the county for less than four times his purchase price. Ron Eldard is Lester Burdon, the married cop with a hair-trigger temper, with whom Kathy becomes involved and who tries to help her recover her home. Instead, he brings ruination on the lives of three families, including his own. All three actors are superb, and perfectly cast, as basically decent but stubborn people behaving stupidly and wrong-headedly.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking character of all is Colonel Behrani's gentle wife Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo, in an achingly beautiful performance), whose entire being has been subjugated to the will of her martinet of a husband. Grieving the loss of her home in Tehran and the life of privilege she and her family enjoyed during the years the Colonel served under the Shah, Nadi is uprooted time and again by her husband who promises her the same affluence in America but who can find work only as a day laborer or convenience store clerk. Behrani himself carries on a bit of a double life in order to keep up the appearance of wealth, putting on a sumptuous wedding for his daughter, and stopping at a hotel each day en route home from his job on a construction crew to change from work clothes to a business suit. Still, he constantly berates Nadi for the amount of money she spends making a lovely home for him and their son, and strikes her when she dares to utter a word of complaint. Thrown into the middle of the volatile confrontation between her husband and Kathy, over which she has no control and doesn't even quite understand, her confliction is plainly reflected in her sad eyes -- wanting to believe and stand by her husband, but also feeling a strong need to help the lost young woman who shows up on her doorstep.

Also a star is the atmospheric cinematography of DP Roger Deakins. By turns majestic, haunting, and menacing, his camera perfectly captures the awesome, and ominous, splendor of the Bay Area.

Written and directed by Vadim Perelman, House of Sand and Fog stays true to the wonderful source novel written by Andre Dubus III.

There isn't a false note here, and even knowing the outcome, I found myself more than once with knots in my stomach and tears in my eyes. Kingsley and Aghdashloo received well-deserved Oscar nominations for their performances. Connelly should have.

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