House of Sand and Fog


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

There are two stories running down the road. Eventually, they will crash.

Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) lies in bed late. Her life is a pretence. She doesn't open letters and, as a result, is evicted from her house - unfairly, as it turns out, but she could have checked her mail.

Col Behrani (Ben Kingsley) is a refugee from the Shah's Iran. He works two jobs, both menial, to keep his wife (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and teenage son (Jonathan Ahdout) in the manner to which they are accustomed. His life is a pretence, also.

They come together because of the house.

Kathy is manic depressive, an ex-junkie and recovering alcoholic, abandoned by her husband, unable to find a structure around which to build a life that has any semblance of meaning, or direction. In denial about the seriousness of her situation - homeless, practically destitute, lying to her mother over the phone - vunerability and insecurity conflict, leaving her defenceless.

She wants the house back and hires a lawyer (Frances Farmer), whom she verbally abuses when things are not cut, dried and in her favour. She starts a relationship with a married policeman (Ron Eldard), which is desperate, unrealistic, helpful and hurtful.

Meanwhile, the Iranian colonel has bought the house for a third of its value, intends to add a seaview balcony and then sell it at a profit. In order to keep his wife happy, he reminds her how it resembles their holiday home on the Caspian.

What is fascinating about this film is not so much the culture clash between a Persian sense of honour and an introspective Northern Californian sensibility, but the emotional strengths that bind it together.

Kathy's life, or so she believes, it tied up with the house, as is Behrani's future, He is only too aware that, as a foreigner in a racist country, he dare not antagonise the authorities, or the police, and yet will insist upon his rights to protect his family.

The performances are exquisite. Ever since winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi, Kingsley has been boldly breaking the ice in too many middle-of-the-road Hollywood fillers, playing control freaks and bad guys. Behrani fits him like a bespoke uniform, worn with pride and adorned with medals.

Connelly won every gong going for her role as Russell Crowe's wife in A Beautiful Mind and, since then, managed to make a love story between a lissom scientist and a CGI giant almost believable in The Hulk. Kathy is closer to the reality of dysfunction here and yet Connelly avoids the temptation to become Joan Crawford. She has integrity and she has empathy. Who could ask for anything more?

Reviewed on: 26 Feb 2004
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House of Sand and Fog packshot
An evicted woman begins a feud with her old house's new owner.
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Director: Vadim Perelman

Writer: Vadim Perelman, Shawn Lawrence Otto, based on the novel by Andre Dubus III

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley, Ron Eldard, Frances Farmer, Kim Dickens, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jonathan Ahdout, Navi Rawat, Carlos Gomez

Year: 2003

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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