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House of Sand and Fog (2003)

Some dreams cant be shared.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 124 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Colonel Behrani (Ben Kingsley) was forced to flee the Iranian Revolution with his family, abandoning his beloved house with its view over the Caspian Sea, so decades later he sees the cheap purchase of a recently repossessed house with a similar view over the bay of San Francisco as his long-awaited opportunity to begin rebuilding the life which had been wrested from him. Only he does not reckon on Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), the previous owner, whose own life has recently been torn apart by alcoholism and the departure of her husband, and who has no intention of losing her grip on her father's house without a fight. Kathy starts up an affair with policeman Lester (Ron Eldard), who is soon planning to leave his wife and children for Kathy and embarking with her on an underhand campaign to dislodge Behrani from the house. As the San Francisco fog enshrouds the house, understanding and judgement also become clouded, with catastrophic consequences.

In Vadim Perelman's assured directorial debut 'House of Sand and Fog', the stubborn personalities and mutual misunderstandings of the three main characters create a compelling tragedy of contested houses, broken homes and demolished dreams. The vast gulf that exists between a proud Middle Eastern patriarch and a young working-class American woman should be obvious, but what propels the film into interesting territories is its determined focus on just how much these two characters, when it comes down to it, have in common. Structured around a series of closely parallel episodes, the film reveals that both are driven by an obsessive desire to retain their grip on a disrupted idea of family, and this symmetry in their lives makes their lack of understanding or sympathy for one another all the more tragic. As is common in tragedies, the main players are essentially well-meaning people brought down by their own flaws – Kathy's manipulative desperation, Behrani's arrogance and deafness to women, and Lester's lovestruck devotion and incomprehension. Only Behrani's wife Nadi (the excellent Shohreh Aghdashloo) seems capable of empathising with others, despite being muted both by her imperious husband and her limited English.

After playing a charismatic Indian pacifist in 'Ghandi', a powerless Russian composer in 'Testament', and a psychotic cockney criminal in 'Sexy Beast', Kinsgley again confirms that he is the grand master of versatility as he brings a fragile dignity to the difficult, not always likeable character of the fallen colonel. Connelly has already played a woman whose life is shattered by addiction and dumb luck in 'Requiem for a Dream', and 'House of Sand and Fog' evokes that earlier film by painstakingly reenacting its central image of her standing at the end of a pier, looking out to sea. Connelly plays Kathy with a dim blankness which both suggests the helpless vulnerability that motivates her, and also keeps viewers guessing what she will do next, in a film whose tragic conclusion is forecast mistily from the very beginning, but remains obscure until the fog clears in the final scenes.

It's Got: A script full of striking symmetries and portentous inevitability, and first-class performances from Ben Kingsley and Shohreh Aghdashloo.

It Needs: For the bird imagery at the end to be a little less heavy-handed.


A compelling tragedy of contested houses, broken homes and demolished dreams.