And the reason it all works so well lies in the performances of Shohreh Aghdashloo and Ben Kingsley.
HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG
An Illusion review by Joan Ellis
What a shame that “House of Sand and Fog” got lost in the distribution shuffle. Never quite finding its place in the art houses or the multiplexes, the movie failed to garner the wide audiences it deserved. This a drama of classical dimensions whose relentless escalation toward tragedy is all the more powerful because there are no villains. Without being told who to hate, we can sink deeply into the emotional turmoil of the movie. It is a play about circumstance and culture.
Mr. Behrani (Ben Kingsley), a road construction worker, ducks into a men’s room after work to clean up and change into an impeccable business suit that matches his severe dignity. Before a word is said we know we will experience a drama of pretense and pride laced with cultural mandates. Behrani is a high-ranking Iranian colonel in exile, and he is turning his capable hand to making it the American way.
Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) is a young woman trying to keep her life together by cleaning houses and dealing with her addictions. She lives in the clutter of the beach house her father left her. An inadvertent oversight in her messy life has brought the authorities to her door: her house will be auctioned for non-payment of taxes. A marvelous detail shows that we are watching beachfront on a modest scale: the house faces the ocean through a tangle of telephone wires.
In his business suit, Behrani drives home each night in a Mercedes to a loving teenaged son and a wife who is living beyond their means in an apartment where she has recreated their life in Iran. He is learning fast. He will buy Kathy’s house at auction, fix it up, and resell for a profit. Kathy who simply can’t understand how she lost her home pesters the Behranis who are now installed in the house. Sleeping in her car outside and drinking, she demands he return her home. He turns a stone ear to suggestions that he sell it back to her for what he paid. “Why should I be penalized for her incompetence?” There are ways to solve the dilemma, but as with all wars, the solutions are consumed by the passions. It is beyond compromise.
As the movie spirals toward tragedy, it asks important questions, big ones about injustice, resolution, and cross-cultural values. And the reason it all works so well lies in the performances of Shohreh Aghdashloo and Ben Kingsley. Jennifer Connelly is good but somewhat reserved as if she were intimidated, perhaps, by the extraordinary performances unfolding by her side. Aghdashloo herself is reserved and elegant with a face that speaks eloquently with the slightest change of expression. She has a deep humanity that slices through cultural barriers. Kingsley, with a dignity bordering on majesty, and Aghdashloo, with abiding compassion, stun the audience as they bring their art to this tale of injustice.
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