House of Sand and Fog: The Proud Colonel’s New Life

SOME DREAMS CAN’T BE SHARED.

Near the end of this film something terrible and tragic happens and the event is so well directed and performed that it is absolutely heartbreaking. It made me cry, even though I was expecting something like that to happen because of the general feeling of unease that permeates the film. How can things go so far? How can the people involved let this happen? We ask ourselves these questions because we believe in these characters. This could happen to anyone of us.

The movie begins with a young woman, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) waking up one morning when the phone rings. It’s her mother and Kathy tells her that her husband is lying next to her, even though we can see he is not. Then there’s banging on the front door and a man barges in, telling Kathy that because of unpaid debts her house will be sold at auction the next day. Kathy is horrified. She inherited the house from her dad and her mother is coming to see her within a few weeks; Kathy can’t stand the idea of having to tell her that not only did her husband walk out on her a long time ago, but now she has also lost the house.

A legal battle begins, but the house is sold the next day to an Iranian-American family, the Behranis. Colonel Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley) and his family were forced to flee Iran when the Shah was overthrown. They settled in the U.S. and did everything to try and maintain the high standard they enjoyed in their native country. Appearances deceive though.

Every day, Massoud leaves his home wearing an expensive suit, but on his way to work he uses a public bathroom to change into jeans and a t-shirt. He has two jobs, one behind the counter at a conveniance store, the other one on a highway construction gang. Massoud is hoping that the purchase of Kathy’s house will improve his family’s financial situation in the long run. When Kathy’s lawyer confronts him and wants him to sell the house back to the county, he refuses. Kathy finds comfort and help from Lester Burdon (Ron Eldard), a deputy sheriff who falls in love with her. He tries to intimidate Massoud, and so the conflict escalates, with tragic consequences.

People making mistakes
There are no bad guys here, just people who make mistakes and keep misunderstanding one another. They have their flaws. Kathy would probably still have her house had she only bothered to open her mail once in a while, and Massoud could have shown greater understanding of her predicament. Lester wants to help the woman he loves, but he’s not a very smart man and his actions are primarily to blame for what happens later on.

Vadim Perelman’s directing debut is vastly impressive. The film is exciting like a thriller (although it isn’t one), it has an aura of foreboding (perhaps the fog has something to do with it?) and a logic to everything that happens in the story. The entire cast excels. Kingsley has rarely been so good as the proud colonel; the grief he latterly expresses could easily have turned into overacting, but it is just so powerful. Connelly is gripping as the emotionally frail woman who is also too proud to tell loved ones what’s going on. Shohreh Aghdashloo plays Kingsley’s wife; her character isn’t as strong as the two leads, but her performance shines.

At the end of the film, the house in question is still standing. At times it seems as if the house is everything. But it is nothing without these people and their struggles. They are completely at odds, but have in common the vision of the house as a symbol for a better life. It is indeed a conflict without a real solution. 

House of Sand and Fog 2003-U.S. 126 min. Color. Produced by Michael London, Vadim Perelman. Directed by Vadim Perelman. Screenplay: Vadim Perelman, Shawn Otto. Novel: Andre Dubus III. Music: James Horner. Cast: Jennifer Connelly (Kathy Nicolo), Ben Kingsley (Massoud Amir Behrani), Ron Eldard (Lester Burdon), Frances Fisher, Kim Dickens, Shohreh Aghdashloo.

Trivia: Aghdashloo reunited with Jonathan Ahdout, who plays her son in this film, for the fourth season of 24, once again playing mother and son.

Last word: “The hardest part of the adaptation was not going to voiceover, because each chapter in the book is told from a first-person perspective. It’s really a roller-coaster ride the whole time. I tried to just even it out, so you’re not wrenched so much. The whole book is this gorgeous, beautifully written inner monologue that goes on in these characters, in their recollections, in the way that the future ties into the past, all so beautifully woven. Losing that, and trying to put it into dialogue – that was the hardest part.” (Perelman, One Guy’s Opinion)

 

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