House of Sand and Fog (2003)

This is an amazing review written by Hulk (Debarghya Mukherjee of Class XI, 2019) on the movie ‘House of Sand and Fog’. 

For some people, a house is a place to stop and rest at night. For some others, it is a means to build for the future. For others still, it is a place of refuge, comfort, and familiarity. And for a few, it is much more than any of that — it is a key to identity and a reminiscent from the past. The dilemma faced by the characters in Vadim Perelman’s masterpiece ‘House of Sand and Fog’ is that a small, county bungalow is much much more than just bricks and concrete to all of them.

Kathy Nicolo, a recovering drug addict, has been recently dumped by her husband and left to fend for herself. All that she has in the world is a house left to her by her father as an inheritance, and that is now being taken away from her. A bureaucratic botch-up resulted in her being held responsible for unpaid taxes that she doesn’t owe. The county evicts her from her house and puts it up for auction. Things escalate so quickly that she has no time to contact a lawyer. The house is soon sold at a fraction of its original value.

The buyer is Massoud Amir Behrani, an Iranian immigrant who moved to the US with his family some years ago. Back in Iran, he was a high-ranking air force colonel, a genob sarhang, personally acquainted with the shah. But, with the shah deposed during the Iranian Revolution, and with his name on the death list, he is forced to flee for his life. He ends up as a garbage collector in California. Buying Kathy’s house gives him an opportunity to plan for the future. By reselling the house at a far higher price that he bought it for, he can make a good profit and fund his son’s college education.

The problem, of course, is that Behrani’s opportunity comes at Kathy’s expense. As far as he is concerned, he has legitimately bought a house with noble plans of making a profit and funding his son’s college. All of that, however, is lost on Kathy. She views Behrani as a thief. She finds comfort in a sympathetic police officer, Lester, who falls in love as much as with her desperation as with her beauty. To prove his love for her, Lester takes reckless decisions, such as harassing and threatening Behrani. Of course, instead of resolving matters, this only exacerbates the matters.

This is a story where nobody is to blame. Kathy has done nothing wrong, and so has Behrani. She has been the victim of an incompetent bureaucracy’s blunder. He has purchased the house legitimately and has his own reasons for not giving it up. The fault in both of them is their unwillingness to view matters from the opposite sides, and because of their high tensions, they act in ways they both regret. Behrani refuses to yield the house to Kathy in spite of her repeated attempts, and Lester, allied with Kathy, makes a grave mistake that would significantly change the lives of all three of them.

House of Sand and Fog, to its credit, depicts a balanced portrayal of either opposing side. Neither side is lionized or vilified. Both protagonists are presented sympathetically. The characters are depicted as real people, complete with all the virtues and vices one might expect of a common person under such circumstances.

This movie can be mistaken for a thriller. However, it is far too complex to allow such simple classifications. This movie draws from a vast ocean of human emotion. And in return, pays you with an unforgettable, enriching experience. This movie shows how a simple, reversible misunderstanding escalates to an irreversible disaster. I am sure this movie will leave an indelible mark on your mind just like it did to mine.