Review: House of Sand
Monotony kills. Of all the films released this summer, approximately 96% were comedies, action or some combination thereof. That might be a slight overstatement, but summer certainly isn't the time for a slow-moving drama; it's built for excitement, laughter and good times. So a foreign film that spans 60 years in the sand dunes of Brazil beginning in the 1910s is doomed to fail, right? Unfortunately yes, but it doesn't have to be that way. Studios assume people don't want a movie like The House of Sand during a happy-go-lucky summer, so the film's marketing budget matches that attitude and results in a $6,281 per-screen average (note: that's not so great). I'm here to tell you that there is always room for a quality film like House of Sand, especially during a summer packed with soulless crap.
The movie begins as you'd expect, with a house in the sand (but not made of sand). Áurea and her mother are forced to move into the sand dunes of Brazil by Áurea's crazy husband. He finds death quickly and the two women beg Massu (Seu Jorge), one of the few locals, to help them escape. Since civilization doesn't make it's way into the desert all that often, the pregnant Áurea is forced to build a proper home and have her child there. For approximately ten years, Áurea makes every effort to leave and find a life elsewhere. After realizing all hope was lost, she shacks up with Massu and makes a life in the dunes. The story continues on for another fifty years, as Áurea's daughter Maria leaves their home and eventually returns as an old woman.
The story ends there. You probably noticed that there are few noteworthy moments in the sixty years covered, which poses the question of whether or not this is an acceptable way to live. Áurea believed that her time in the desert was a complete waste during the first ten years while her mother said she'd never been happier. The characters' beliefs flip-flopped throughout the film, but the act of staying in the desert the full time provided validation for those who choose to live a simple life. As support for this, the two hour run time of this film flew by despite a complete lack of pyrotechnics and only their attempts at survival in the desert as fodder. Making the minutiae of their lives captivating is a difficult task in its own right, but having it also be the answer to the film's central question was truly impressive.
Continuity of story and style was the key to The House of Sand's success, but the beautiful production design and cinematography would have been enough. Of course the crew made sure the look of the film jived with the story, but I would have been happy to watch Áurea and her family do nothing at all for the duration of the film. The fact that there was a delightfully poignant moral was icing on the cake; it turned House of Sand from a beautiful piece of art into one of the best films of the year.