Neil Young’s Film Lounge – House of Sand and Fog



USA 2003 : Vadim PERELMAN : 126 mins

Two parties feud over the ownership of a San Francisco beach-side bungalow. Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) is a recovering alcoholic eking out a living as a house-cleaner. Behrani (Ben Kingsley) is an Iranian colonel who became a US citizen after his countrys Islamic revolution. Originally owned by Kathys father, the house passes to Behrani due to a combination of her laziness some bureaucratic bungling. Behrani moves in with his wife Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and teenage son Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout) – having obtained the property for a song at auction, its his intention to renovate the slightly dilapidated dwelling and sell it off for a healthy profit. But Kathy refuses to accept what she sees as an injustice, enlisting the help of a local Deputy Sheriff, Lester (Ron Eldard). This turns out to be the latest in a long line of mis-steps by the hapless Kathy, with disastrous consequences for all…House of Sand and Fog

Like Mystic River and 21 Grams, Perelmans overcooked debut is part of a wave of post-9/11 downbeat dramas which explore heavyweight issues their strenuous seriousness bolstered by the efforts of their high-calibre cast. But all, to some degree, are undermined by their plots reliance on coincidence and contrivance, and the inability of their scriptwriters and directors to strike the right balance between tragedy and melodrama. Its especially disappointing to see House of Sand and Fog go down this route in its implausible, thriller-inflected final act there are some intriguing subtexts here (e.g. hardworking immigrants vs feckless, dysfunctional locals), and the film does pay refreshingly close attention to the financial specifics of a wrangle over what is, in movie terms, a surprisingly mundane property.

But while Kingsley and Aghdashloo contribute solid, appealing performances, the miscast, Oscar-hunting Connelly (nobodys idea of an ex-alcoholic cleaning-woman) can’t prevent Kathy from emerging as an off-puttingly unsympathetic heroine, especially as she drifts into a romantic relationship with the hot-headed, borderline-racist Lester. The resolution, needless to say, works out extremely badly for all concerned but the impression were left with isn’t one of numbingly inevitable tragedy, but rather of grinding misery for its own sake.

29th February, 2004
(seen 23rd February : UCI MetroCentre, Gateshead)

click here for Uncertain Foundations, an essay-length review of House of Sand and Fog

by Neil Young