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House of Sand and Fog Movie Review. Drama Over American Dream.

house of sand and fog movie review
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I didn’t come to America to live and walk the streets like a filthy Arab! I came to America to live!

House of Sand and Fog.

Today I want to share my House of Sand and Fog movie review with you. 

This gripping tale of the American dream, doomed to fail, tells the story of two men willing to do anything to prove their right to own a home.

house of sand and fog summary
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House of Sand and Fog 2003.

It is one of the movies that made me cry without embarrassment. House of Sand and Fog (2003) is about the hard fate of two different people who came together at one point of intersection—their house.

Kathy originally owned this house. It was the home of her parents and her childhood. But life cracked. The girl was abandoned by her husband, and she did not notice how she had accumulated huge debts. And so the house was sold for next to nothing, and now she is homeless.

On the other hand, Massoud Amir Behrani is an American citizen of Iranian origin who became the new owner of the above house. For Behrani and his family, this is a chance to start over, as he is forced to vegetate and grab any job to maintain his social status.

Both of them, it would seem, should be enemies, but they became more like comrades in misfortune.

Vadim Perelman shot the film based on the novel by André Dubus, “House of Sand and Fog.” The picture received 3 Oscar nominations: Best Actor (Ben Kingsley), Best Supporting Actress (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and Best Soundtrack.

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The Director paid attention to every character in House of Sand and Fog.

Kingsley once again proved to everyone his virtuosity and the most comprehensive range. His hero is a very stubborn and headstrong person. You can’t at first say that you like him; instead, all the sympathies at this time are on the side of the heroine Connelly. 

But as the action develops, you realize with extreme surprise that this is a man of a wide soul. Behind the mask of purely male brutality, he turns out to have a good heart, and he can at any time make self-sacrifice for the sake of his family.

Jennifer Connelly also shows us a brilliant embodiment of the image. At first, you sympathize with the girl left without a roof over her head, but then Kathy’s aggression causes an ambiguous reaction. But still, like the colonel, she is a hostage of the situation. 

And when there is progress in Kathy’s relationship with the Behrani family, you are desperately happy about it, hoping that everything will somehow work out and justice will still prevail.

It is impossible to pass by a beautiful game from Shohreh Aghdashloo, who played Nadi, Behrani’s wife. Shohreh Aghdashloo vividly embodied the image of a humble Muslim wife that touches a nerve. She is touching, open, and kind, but sometimes she does not feel happy.

Ron Eldard played a police officer who has reached the peak phase of discord in the family, and he falls in love with Connelly. And he, too, is far from the worst person in the world. But he could act according to the law, which he had to observe. However, he violates it himself and humbly accepts the punishment, which whitewashes him a little in the eyes of the public.

Music and camera work deserve special attention. Cinematographer Roger Deakins is a thirteen-time Oscar nominee. 

The film composer is James Horner, who wrote a piece for more than 100 films, including two Oscars for the soundtracks to the movie Titanic and Aliens. In addition, the composition for House of Sand and Fog was nominated for an Oscar.

house of sand and fog movie review
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House of Sand and Fog character analysis.

The film director, Vadim Perelman, was born in the USSR; as a teenager, he immigrated to Italy with his mother. At 14, he began to earn money: he washed dishes and worked at gas stations. Then, they moved to Canada, where Vadim worked as a paperboy. Perhaps that is why Perelman shows the immigrant desire for the American dream so well.


For Kathy, getting a house means getting her past life back. For Behrani, building a new one is the first step toward success. But unfortunately, the place that was built of sand was destroyed by fog.

The symbol of that former, respected life of the Behrani family is a table decorated with chased Iranian patterns. In the beginning, Nadi is frantically cleaning the table. And it looks like an attempt to create an island of that former world in the hotel where they were respected and happy. 

Then, this table is solemnly erected in a new house – bought at an auction, the very home of Cathy Nicolo. And you can see how proud the owner is of his contribution to the future well-being of loved ones.

Later, when Massoud hits his wife during a quarrel, their son Ismail tries to pull his father away from his mother, and together they fall on a table whose legs break. And it becomes clear that the happiness of the Behrani family is shattered and can never be restored to its former form, like this table.

Suppose the symbol of family happiness of the Behrani family is a table with an iron chased top. In that case, the symbol of another heroine in the film, Cathy Nicolo, is a wounded bird. Birds and fog are the main symbols in this film. 


Kathy is terribly, unbearably alone. She struggles alone with alcoholism, with her husband’s neglect, and even with the administrative system that mistakenly deprived her of her home. 

Of course, there are people around – her lawyer honestly does his job, and even the young lieutenant tries to start an affair with her. But still, Kathy radiates restlessness like radiation. And habitually hurt her calls from her mother, who will call in soon, inspect her daughter’s life, and give her another empty piece of advice. 

So Cathy is again alone with her pain, despair, loneliness, and powerlessness. And there is no one to even complain to.

Colonel Behrani
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Kathy Nicolo vs Colonel Behrani.

None of the heroes can retreat. Each is driven by their demons – psychological attitudes, complexes, and fears. Let’s look at mistakes in the behavior of each character that made the situation develop from bad to worse.

Colonel Behrani is strong and responsible, but for him to demonstrate weakness is like death. He would rather pass away than show that he is not all right and needs help. 

For everyone around him, he is a successful person, has an excellent position, and does not experience the slightest material problems. And even his wife did not guess that the money was running out and he was bankrupt.

However, the colonel desperately hides that his well-being is based on shifting sand and that he is forced to work at a construction site and trade at a roadside shop at night to make ends meet. 

As a result, the military bearing of the colonel looks arrogant and snobby to outsiders. He seems indifferent to greed which is trying to take away the last property from an unfortunate lonely girl. The fragile ego of Colonel Massoud Behrani does not allow him to ask for help or tell others about how his family is loitering and suffering. This behavior brings, in the end, a terrible, tragic outcome.

Kathy Nicolo
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Kathy Nicolo is different. She is not afraid to show her vulnerability; she even asks her mother for help, although she does not receive it. Instead, Cathy’s actions are guided by the experience of a lack of support. 

She does not ask for help because she has been ignored many times. Therefore, she is silent, crying, and alone, hopelessly beating. She fights not to portray a higher social status but is trying to avoid more pain.

So, Kathy asks her lawyer to return the house to her as soon as possible because, on the eighteenth, her mother and aunts are going to visit. And their sharp tongues and dismissive condemnation of the stupid daughter are unbearable. She gonna lie and get out to the last, just to portray the appearance of well-being. 

But we can see Kathy is not afraid to be weak in front of Lieutenant Lester. That is why, as soon as Lester leaves to negotiate with his ex-wife, Kathy falls into despair and is almost ready to commit suicide. In her world, he left her and left forever because her relatives always did this to her.

She still hopefully clings to Lester, so she even blossoms and begins to smile in his company – at least someone needs it; at least someone cares. And even when Lester proposes to do sheer insane stupidity, she doesn’t have the strength to resist the one person she can rely on. And this, for its part, brings the terrible ending closer.

The heroes do not see and do not understand each other and cannot talk, learn, or sympathize with each other. For Kathy, the colonel is an arrogant grabber; for him, she is a spoiled American who behaves like a capricious child and does not understand her duties and place in life. As a result, she hates him, and he despises her.

True, when Kathy tries to commit suicide, and the colonel’s family comes to her aid, they are close to seeing living people in each other, sympathizing and understanding each other.

house of sand and fog symbols
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House of Sand and Fog movie symbols.

The director used every possible means to convey the atmosphere and emotional involvement of the viewer. As a result, everything came together; the drama of what is happening; spectacular visuals only reinforcing the feeling of uncertainty, the nebula of the future of both main characters; and a well-chosen cast.

Something is alluring and, at the same time, repulsive in the foggy haze that envelops the ill-fated house. It symbolizes the characters’ inner state: both seem not to see where they should go next or what awaits them at the next turn of life.

This seemingly ‘background’ detail of the picture gives it an additional glow. And I think, without it, such a complete impression would not have been achieved.

Fog appears before important scenes:

  • when Behrani sees an auction announcement;
  • when Kathy hurts her leg;
  • when Officer Lester threatens the colonel;
  • Kathy and Lester are leaving for the fog, for nowhere;
  • when Kathy tries to shoot herself;
  • when Lester finds Kathy, the house is as foggy as ever;
  • when Kathy returns to the house where the colonel killed his wife and committed suicide.

Birds appear as often as fog in this film. They give signs to our heroes.

  • birds circle Kathy and Lester;
  • Kathy sees a dead bird in the water before Massoud’s suicide.
  • Kathy returns to the house, the birds fly away, and we see a long shot with a plastic bird keychain. All that’s left is a bauble. No one needs the keys to the house.
  • after the suicide, birds soar high in the sky;
  • the only feather lies on the surface of the water in the flower pot. It looks like a symbol of an innocent victim – Ismail. This flower pot is a metaphor for an empty nest from which souls have flown.
  • birds fly away when the Behrani family leaves their home in Iran.
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Water is also included in the reinforcement of imagery. In the finale, it rains heavily – an irreversible flow of time, loss, and oblivion.

The director always gives the viewer little clues from the very beginning of the film. For example, when Katy first meets Lester, she sees him behind bars. As a result, Lester goes to jail.

Of course, the house with such bars was not chosen by the director by chance. The grid is a cage in which neither life nor meaning exists. The place the heroes are fighting for is an illusion.

Katie’s bare feet are an additional way to give vulnerability and defenselessness to her image. Likewise, her legs are bare, just as her soul is bare.

Kathy`s house will never be the same again; it is destroyed, and the first blood has been shed.

As a result, we see two sides of the same coin. Who should be sympathetic? Who is right, and who is wrong? Is it a coincidence or a choice?


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house of sand and fog movie
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Philologists would call such a film cathartic. It is a heavy, sad, but lively film.

The story is about good people who have fallen into a circle of circumstances called life’s millstones. It seems to me that history is natural and devoid of national characteristics.

Share this blog post if you enjoyed it. I would really appreciate it! 

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I`m in love with movies and psychology. Here I write how we can use movies for healing and self-growth. Also, be sure to check out my movie lists. You will find cool suggestions for movie night.

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I`m in love with movies and psychology. Here I write how we can use movies for healing and self-growth. Also, be sure to check out my movie lists. You will find cool suggestions for movie night.

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