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flick pick | House of Sand and Fog 2003
Directed by: Vadim Perelman
Written by: Vadim Perelman, Shawn Otto, Andre Dubus III (novel)
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley, Shoreh Aghdashloo, Ron Eldard
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: serious
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis Kathy Nicolo's life is in a bad place of late. Her husband left her months ago, her family still doesn't know, and she's so depressed she can barely get out of bed to tidy up the little house by the sea that she and her brother inherited from her dad. But when county officials come pounding through her door one morning and evict her from her own home, Kathy knows she hasn't screwed up so badly as to deserve this. The county insists she owes back taxes for a business that Kathy never even owned; when Kathy angrily replies that she already went to court to clear up the matter, they tell her that they have no record of that, and that they've mailed her many notices regarding the eviction and subsequent auction of the property. One of the policemen assigned to help remove Kathy from the premises, Lester, sympathizes with Kathy, and slips her the name of a lawyer who might be able to help. Angry but left with no other choice, Kathy moves her stuff into storage and sets up temporary home at a motel. But before her lawyer can clear up the mistake, the county sells Kathy's house. The lucky new homeowner is a hardworking Iranian immigrant named Behrani, a former colonel who fled to America with his wife and two children only to find himself slaving away at multiple menial jobs and carefully rationing his savings to give his family the illusion of the lifestyle they're accustomed to. When he manages to snatch up the little bungalow in the California hills at a quarter of the price it's worth, he can't believe his good fortune. He makes plans to move into the house with his family for a few months, fix it up, then sell it off at a great big profit. As Kathy and Behrani each find themselves building their hopes for the future on the same small house, it's clear that they're on course for a major collision.

Review Based on a novel by Andre Dubus III, The House of Sand and Fog is one of those rare movies that's worth watching even by those who have already read the book. It's a very beautiful, very faithful adaptation of a really great story -- and like all great stories, you find you get more out of it with each revisit. In my first encounter with Kathy and Behrani and Lester (who comes to play a big role in the story), I was so caught up in the rapidly escalating tensions that I raced through the book in a single weekend, unable to put the book down until I found out what happened in the end. I'd skim the slower character-development sections just to get to the resolution a little sooner; I no doubt I missed a lot. But watching a story on film, you know you'll get your resolution in just a couple of hours or so, not so very long a time, even to us impatient folk. In a way, watching the movie let me concentrate more on the characters, to get under their skin, to think about their motivations. One of the things I liked best about the book was that it was impossible to choose a side to take: each of the characters was both right and wrong, good and bad, all at the same time. Director Vadim Perelman does an excellent job of preserving this intriguing ambiguity in the story's big screen translation, and the casting and performances are so good that there's none of that jarring discrepancy between what you imagined the book's characters to look like, and what Hollywood decided they'd be. You probably won't like any of the characters in The House of Sand and Fog -- heck, at various points in the movie, you'll probably find yourselves screaming at each and every one to quit being so short-sightedly stupid -- but if you can get beyond that, you'll find a moving, epic, tragedy that has a lot of relevance in our current world. In The House of Sand and Fog, we see that two people standing on opposite sides of an issue can both be a little bit right, and a little bit wrong, and that the only way to move forward is to quit keeping tabs on who's more good and who's more bad, so we can work together towards something better for all. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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