ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  vadim perelman

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  depressing

LENGTH  -  126 minutes

RELEASED  -  19 december 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  dreamworks

OFFICIAL SITE  -  sand and fog

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $16,000,000
house of sand and fog - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from house of sand and fog at

buy the dvd from house of sand and fog at

a man raised as an elf travels to new york to find his biological father.

a woman loses her house due to non-payment of taxes and is evicted, allowing an Iranian general and his family to buy the house at auction at a substantial discout.


picture from house of sand and fog

picture from house of sand and fog

picture from house of sand and fog


two out of four possible stars

House of Sand and Fog is a film that showcases characters that have intense emotional burdens to bear and by the end of the film, viewers will feel the full and massive weight of those burdens. The film, based on author Andre Dubus's novel, is much more a forum for two Oscar-winning actors to display their theatrical abilities than an experience audience members can savor. Drowning in oceans of their own tears, lead actors Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley put on a fantastic show for the audience, but in their zeal to create powerful performances, they are too enthusiastic in displaying their depression, pushing the film deep into melodramatic territory. Certain scenes will have a humorous effect on the audience when no humor was intended.

And because not one phrase in the film is meant to be taken in laughter (save one welcome, off-hand remark by Kingsley's character when his family is in a bathroom), the film is a dredging, depressive experience for every one of its 123 minutes. Even in the darkest moments of human existence, there exists a natural levity which appears at the very least as an automatic human response to some of life's most terrible experiences. And while this film was not created as a comedic vehicle, the story becomes not a battle of wills between the two lead characters, but a battle to see who can find more difficulty in their personal situation. Is Connelly's character, "Kathy," having been evicted from her home for non-payment of taxes, in a deeper hole, recently abandoned by her husband and forced to take up residence in her Bonneville?

Or is Kingsley's character, former Iranian general, "Behrani," in more dire straits as his family's well-being hangs on whether he can turn a profit on Kathy's former house? Certainly both characters have great difficulties in their lives, but as the story progresses, it is hard to sympathize with either character, though if one were to pick someone to "root" for, the General would probably be the easier target. Witnessing the intense love he has for his family is heartening, though keeping sympathy with him is difficult as he shows himself to be an overly controlling force in his family's life.

Watching Connelly's character sink quickly and violently back into alcoholism (after having been "clean" for three years) is horrific and though one might feel sorry for her predicament, Kathy's problems are entirely of her own making. Her character is so unsympathetic (and rather flaky) that it's difficult to label her as the "protagonist" in the film. But as Kingsley's character is painted as the obstacle in Kathy's way to reclaiming her house (a role that would typically be defined as the "antagonist"), it's impossible to mark Kingsley as the protagonist either.

So does that mean that this is a film whose plot revolves around two antagonists? With whom is the audience to side when push comes to shove? At the end of the film, when everyone's had their say and every character's life is damaged beyond repair, are viewers supposed to find a sense of completion? In tracing the steps of each of the characters, nobody seems to learn anything valuable about their own self, nor does anybody grow emotionally and learn a lesson from undergoing such tense events. Somebody has to change. Somebody has to learn something. Excepting a story based on actual events (when even real-life "lessons" would be fictionally enhanced for theatrical benefit), this story's conclusion leaves the audience in a lurch, unable to find closure.

And for a film that just crests two hours, there is quite a lot of intense gazing and listless pondering engaged in by most of the cast. Each character takes ample time to examine their situation, but shouldn't it follow that somebody somewhere learns something valuable? Perhaps the actors thought it necessary to engage in glassy-eyed meditations for the benefit of score composer James Horner, whose music is intense and well-imagined, but serves only to exaggerate the depressing and dark nature of the film.

Although the performances are fully beyond reproach (with supporting roles played by Ron Eldard, Jonathan Ahdout, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Frances Fisher coming in strong), one questions the motives behind the creation of a film of this type. Though viewers who despise the bland nature of many big-budget Hollywood films might jump at the chance to see such impassioned performances, even art-house fans might find this film a difficult experience. Can a such a depressing, non-redeeming film exist successfully on the merit of the performances alone? Despite tough performances from Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley, the filmmakers of House of Sand and Fog have not proven that a film can survive on talent alone.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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