DreamWorks Pictures

House of Sand and Fog

House of Sand and Fog

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The war between America and the Middle East is in full metaphoric force in Vadim Perelman’s ridiculous eviction melodrama House of Sand and Fog. This pathologically edited film’s associative disorder is apparent from the start. Every two scenes in the film seemingly work as paired rivals linked by film-school graphic matches. These hollow visual analogies are deafeningly portentous. Soapy beach water. Cut to inexplicably bubbling champagne. Storage facility door closes. Cut to car trunk opening. Sound of gun clicking. Cut to sound of hammer hitting nail. Etcetera. Infinitum. The result is a two-hour death match between sparring Big Themes. In this corner: From the U.S.A., alcoholic housekeeper Kathy “I’m trying not to harp on the negative” Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly), displaced out of her home because the judicial system sucks (or is it because she can’t open her mail?). And in this corner, all the way from Iran, Colonel Massoud Amir “It’s just like our bungalow on the Caspian” Behrani (Ben Kingsley), displaced from his homeland and trying to weasel himself some money by buying a house at auction price and selling it wholesale. For 18-plus rounds, Perelman uses his paired scenes to draw ludicrous, mind-numbingly obvious, and mostly inconsequential comparisons between Kathy and Behrani’s worlds (get this: Iranians like to cuddle after sex too!). If the titular house represents America, then who owns it: the poor white girl who inherited it from her father but forgot to pay her business taxes or the noble “other” who bought it fair-and-square? After placing his characters in a prickly real estate jam, Perelman outlines everyone’s bad and good traits before then martyring them. No questions, no answers. Amid a series of impromptu hostage situations and preposterous bird allusions, Perelman finds the time to slap a few wrists. If the filmmakers imply that White America has forgotten the words to “This Land Is Your Land,” then the Iranians are asked to leave their delusions of grandeur at the door. The film doesn’t have anything serious to say about class, entitlement, or race issues, and it pales in comparison to Jafar Panahi’s tender and deceptively simple Crimson Gold. Perelman trivializes the culture war that’s unmistakably being waged beneath the real estate debacle. House of Sand and Fog is being seriously promoted as “a gripping exploration of the American Dream gone awry,” but make no mistake: The Middle Eastern cast and doom-and-gloom visuals exist only to confuse undiscriminating white liberals and make a ghoul’s spectacle of human tragedy. The film isn’t racist itself but refuses to examine the racism that makes the story’s real estate fiasco a fiasco to begin with. Beneath the ominous, perpetual fog and bloated James Horner score, isn’t the film just a glorified Pacific Heights (or, more accurately, an art-house facsimile of John Q)? Oscar, here it comes!

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Distributor
DreamWorks Pictures
Runtime
125 min
Rating
R
Year
2003
Director
Vadim Perelman
Screenwriter
Shawn Lawrence Otto, Vadim Perelman
Cast
Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley, Ron Eldard, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Ashley Edner, Frances Fisher, Kia Jam, Navi Rawat