House of Sand and Fog
Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”
This is about what you would expect from the advertising and reviews: A smart, very well-acted drama about two well-balanced sides of a moral conflict. Ben Kingsley is moving and convincing in his lead role, and Shohreh Aghdashloo is striking in a too-small role as his wife. There is a natural sense of doom with this kind of material; since the two parties cannot share what they both want, one or both must be unhappy at the end of the film. But the situations never feel forced; every moment feels like a natural progession for the characters, no matter how ludicrous it is, because the actors have done such a good job of making them into real people. It is sometimes too overbearing with its visual symbols (a dead bird!) and musical score, but mostly it's a tranquil, intelligent film.
Now let me get more specific. What bothered me about this film was a problem from start to finish, that the characters' motivations were so vaguely established. We don't get the specifics of Behrani's exile from Iran, but we do get a sense of his desperation, fine. What we lack is a full explanation of Kathy's motivations and the business tax error that got her into this mess. From what I heard, she seemed to be responsible for the oversight, which made it difficult to sympathize with her, because every hardship in the film was her own fault. I could tell the movie wanted to be even-handed about them, but giving us clearer information about the tax problem and why it's not her fault (maybe her husband did it and they haven't been able to track him down?) would have helped the film immensely. In the end, I decided to give the movie an "it ruled" rating (just barely), because it achieved something worthwhile: Even if we don't agree with both characters, even if we take sides with one of them, we do understand both sides of the conflict, and we do feel some sympathy for both. The film did achieve what it sought; I just wish it had done better by itself.
Also troublesome for me was Behrani's final resolution. Maybe I'm just ignorant of Muslim cultures, but that doesn't strike me as hunky-dory. Then again, it happens every day; just read the news... Behrani is one of the most noble and magnetic film characters I have seen in some time; this is a man who I would definitely like to spend two hours getting to know. The contrasts between him and Lester are so pronounced: The way each man treats his family, wears his uniform, regards his lover. They form a great duality that stands well for the film's central issue of today's dual America, torn between its natives and its immigrants. It is hard on us natives, yes, but in Nadi and Kathy it shows the possibility for concession and understanding.