HOUSE OF SAND

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

            There are few things more beautiful than a landscape with nothing in it.  Struck silent for a moment by the sight of it, we know that a mood is being set.  There was, for example, a moment in “The Illusionist” when the young couple has met secretly in a rolling field and the only thing in their sight line is one tall tree standing alone on a hummock.  It’s so wondrously peaceful that we are won over in that moment.  

            “House of Sand” destroys that theory.  The endless desert, the wind, the blowing sand, the isolation the sight of it implies – all of that is offered up in the first scene, and never loosens its grip.  This unforgiving landscape is neither peaceful nor beautiful; it’s far too unsettling for that, though there is an awful beauty in the way the wind sculpts the shifting dunes into forms that are a constant threat to the settlers.  Nature is the paramount player here, and the actors have the sense not to try to outshoot its power. 

It hits suddenly and hard.   For reasons never made clear, a wild eyed husband has brought his pregnant wife and her mother to a desert wilderness that is unimaginably remote, not to say inconceivable as a place to live.  Within minutes of the opening, this group trudging through deep sand and bent against the wind stops at the command of the deranged husband, Vasco (Ruy Guerra) who yells, “We found it!  We’re settling here!”   Sitting in the lounge chair comfort of the theater, we want to scream, “Why?”  That question is never answered.

            The fiery daughter, Aurea (Fernanda Torres) is caught up in rage and thinks only of escape, not from her crazy husband Vasco who has been killed in an accident (wind related) early on, or from anyone else.  No person is holding her.  She is captive only to nature.  She cannot walk out alone; certain of the impossibility, her mother (Fernanda Montenegro) will not go.  She cannot escape over the open sea.  What she can do is fall in love with Massu, a kind man who is one in a group of fugitive slaves that walks over the dunes one windy day.  There is quite a bit of sex on this sand.

            What makes this all so compelling is that mother and daughter (as they are in real life) do not try to compete with the overwhelming nature that surrounds them.  The marvelous Fernanda Montenegro knows that the quieter she is, the more we will understand.  The story spans six decades in the lives of three generations of this family (1910 – 1969) with the two actresses playing the multiple roles as time passes.   When escape presents itself in the form of visitors who now come by jeep, the desert has held at least two of them.  They have adapted.  Look forward to an ending that manages to be lovely and inspired without being sentimental.  That’s skill.


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