Sun December 28, 2003
House of Sand and Fog
Here is modern tragedy like no other in 2003.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
Here is modern tragedy like no other in 2003. While A.O. Scott in the "New York Times" reminded us of "Antigone's" "two rights adding up to a monstrous wrong," I will take one further step to say debut director Vadim Perelman's "House of Sand and Fog" has many of the tragic elements found in most Greek dramas centuries ago.
Jennifer Connelly's Kathy has lost her family home for back taxes to Ben Kingsley's former Iranian Colonel Behrani. In trying to get the house back, Kathy resorts to tactics worthy of a drugged out cleaning lady with great eyes. In refusing to sell the house, Colonel Behrani exhibits the strength of will we are witnessing in Iraqis after America's invasion. Who is right or wrong is academic, for each is flawed enough to be responsible for the outcome of their fierce battle over the house.
As in those ancient tragedies, the sins of the parents are vested on the children, the major recipients of parents' misjudgments, or in Kathy's case, the lack of children is a contributing factor. Kathy's losing her home because she was not responsible enough to read her mail, which included the tax notice, is tragic fault enough, along with her pride. The Colonel's pride in his former status, his blind protection of his family, and his unwillingness to see the danger in Kathy's depression are adequate candidates for tragic hero status.
I favored Sean Penn's vengeful father in "Mystic River" (another certifiable tragedy) as the best performance of 2003 until I saw Kingsley's Colonel in "House." His rigid, eventually humanistic honor reminds me of Robert Duvall's ramrod-straight pilot/father in "The Great Santini."
Aristotle described tragedy as "an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude." "House of Sand and Fog" qualifies. He also said the characters experience "unmerited misfortune." I rest my case.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm.