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Starring
Fernanda Montenegro
as Donna Maria

Fernanda Torres
as ┴urea

Seu Jorge
as Massu - 1910-1919

Stŕnio Garcia
as Luiz - 1942

Luiz Melodia
as Massu - 1942

Enrique DÝaz
as Luiz - 1919

Camilla Facundes
as Maria - 1919

Ruy Guerra
as Vasco de Sß

Written by Elena Soßrez

Directed by Andrucha Waddington

Running Time: 1:43

Rated R
for some graphic sexuality.

B+


THE OPENING

House of Sand may be the first movie where I did a complete 180 degree turn while watching.

THE STORY

In 1910, ┴urea is taken by her somewhat insane husband into the Brazilian desert, for reasons that are never explained. He wants to set up a home there, while all ┴urea wants to do is go back to where they came from. With her is her mother, Donna Maria, who goes so far as to bribe the workers to help them leave, but to no avail. What follows is an almost 60 year saga of three generations of women, wanting to leave, but also trying to make a life in the sand.

THE REVIEW

I will freely admit that going into House of Sand, I wasn't expecting to enjoy it. I mean, look at the story. It's a foreign film about women who live in the sand. And when the movie first started, I was afraid my premonition was correct. For the first 45-50 minutes of the movie, I was rather bored. Visually the movie is very stark. What can you do when 90% of the background is sand? What I did find interesting though, is that although you knew it had to be tremendously hot there, it looked cold, like they were in the Alaskan wilderness. The opening shot was from high above the ground and if you didn't know it was in the desert, you might think you were looking at snow. The entire movie had that washed out look, but it, like everything else, grew on me. Also during that opening half of the film I kept thinking, why are they here? Why would this guy just randomly decide to try and set up a house in the middle of nowhere? What are they going to eat? How would they live? And that question was never answered beyond a 'my husband is crazy' line. And then there was the fact that although they lived on nothing but sand (with some small patches of water) nearby was the ocean, and a small island where others lived. I never really quite understood the lay of the land, and how everyone survived and how there was no easy eay out. So for the first half of the film, I wasn't very happy.

But then, things slowly started to change. And my enjoyment of the film came from two very specific sources: Fernanda Montenegro and Fernanda Torres. Through the two lead actresses, I got completely sucked in to the film. First off, the director made an interesting decision as far as casting goes. The film takes place over the course of 60 years. Initially, Montenegro plays Donna Maria, the grandmother and Torres plays ┴urea, the daughter/wife. Torres's character is pregnant when the first arrive in the dunes. Then the film flashes forward ten years and the actresses are joined by Camilla Facundes, who plays young Maria, the granddaughter. Eventually the movie flashes forward another 20+ years and that's where things get interesting. By now, Donna Maria has passed away, and Montenegro now takes over the role of ┴urea, while Torres now plays Maria. And by the end of the film, which takes place in 1970 or thereabouts, Montenegro plays both ┴urea in her very old age, as well as Maria. At first glance, it got a little confusing because there was nothing to show that we had suddenly flashed ahead in time. So it took a few minutes and some dialogue to understand that everyone had gotten older and that the actresses were now new characters.

Like I said, the main reason I enjoyed the film were the two lead actresses. I'll start with Fernanda Torres. When they first get out into the sand, she's a meek wife, who leans on her mother and gets bullied by her husband. Her main focus is trying to get out and she's extremely desperate. When the action fast forwards to when Maria is a child, Torres now physically looks tough and strong. She can walk for two days in the heat of the sands without any problem. She's still trying to get out of the desert, but has also accepted her life and is trying to make it the best she can for her daughter and mother. After her mother dies, you can see in her eyes how she has almost given up. She has one more chance to leave, but misses the opportunity, and that's it for her. When we next see Torres, she is now playing her own daughter Maria, and it's a wild change. Maria once caught her mom having sex with Massau, the man who helped take care of the women when they first arrived, but who also ruined their chances of leaving, and now she's become a sexual being in her own right. She sleeps with every man who lives on the nearby small island. She does nothing to help them survive in the desert, and has no interest in anything. Torres does a great job of portraying her two characters in completely different lights.

Then there was the best part of the film, Fernanda Montenegro. She has the most difficult time, having to play all three generations of women at one point. At first, as Donna Maria, she was quiet yet determined, only wanting to protect her daughter. And, so help me God, she looked a lot like Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life. It was when she then took over the role of ┴urea that I really felt the movie. As ┴urea, you could see in her eyes and in her every movement, how she had fought for years to get out, only to realize that maybe it was meant for her to be right where she was. She had lost control of her daughter, was in love with Massau, and knew that no matter how much she might have wanted to leave when she was young, she was going to spend her life in the dunes. Finally, at the end of the film, Montenegro takes on dual roles, playing both ┴urea and Maria for one final conversation. All of her performances were outstanding and heartbreaking. I don't know what the Academy Award eligibility is for House of Sand, but if the film is still eligible, then there is no question in my mind Fernanda Montenegro deserves a best actress nomination. In my life there have only been a handful of acting performances that truly stood out to me, and they were all male. Denzel Washington in Malcolm X. Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking. Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull. And now I can finally add a woman to that list. I have never been so touched or so moved by an actress before, and for all the issues I had with House of Sand, they all pale in comparison to the extraordinary performance of Fernanda Montenegro.

THE BOTTOM LINE

So overall, I enjoyed House of Sand. At first glance, there are some story issues that don't make any sense and are never resolved. But the fantastic work of the two lead actresses overcome everything else and makes this movie an immediate Oscar contender.

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reviewed 08/10/06

© 2006 Wolfpack Productions

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