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House of Sand and Fog is a 2003 American drama film directed by Vadim Perelman. The screenplay by Perelman and Shawn Lawrence Otto is based on the novel of the same name by Andre Dubus III.

The story concerns the battle between a young woman and an immigrant Iranian family over ownership of a house in Northern California which ultimately has dire consequences.


Kathy Nicolo is a recovering addict living in a small house near the coast in Northern California that she and her brother inherited from their father. Abandoned by her husband and trapped by a malaise that has left her depressed and unresponsive to her surroundings, she ignores a number of notices threatening her with eviction for an alleged nonpayment of business taxes. She only becomes aware of her precarious situation when the police forcibly remove her and her belongings from the house and put it up for auction.

Immigrant Massoud Amir Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian Army, fled his homeland with his family during a time of conflict and now lives in San Franciscomarker. While working at menial jobs, he maintains the appearance of being a respectable businessman so as not to shame his wife Nadereh, son Esmail, and married daughter Soraya. His path crosses with that of Kathy when he purchases her house at a price he later learns is a quarter of its actual value. After some renovations and additions, he intends to flip the property and use the profits to buy a larger home.

Taking the advice of Deputy Sheriff Lester Burdon, who was assigned to handle her eviction, Kathy seeks legal assistance to regain title to her house. Attorney Connie Walsh is confident the fact her property was wrestled away from her based on an incorrect assumption she owed taxes will force the county to return Massoud's money and reinstall her in the house. Massoud, however, is not prepared to accept anything less than the appraised value of the property.

Lester leaves his wife and children and becomes Kathy's protector, confronting Massoud under the name Joe Gonzalez and threatening him with deportation if he refuses to cooperate. In retaliation, Massoud goes to the police station to report Lester's behaviour, identifying his real name in the process. Lester is severely reprimanded by Lieutenant Alvarez (Carlos Gomez) while Massoud viciously warns Kathy to leave him and his family alone. Kathy, seeing no satisfactory resolution to her problems, attempts suicide in her old driveway and is rescued by Massoud, only to swallow a handful of pills while in the bath. Unconscious, she's discovered by Nadereh, who forces her to vomit the medication. As she and her husband are trying to get Kathy into the bedroom, Lester comes looking for her, misinterprets what he sees, and locks the Behrani family in their own bathroom until Massoud agrees to sell the house back to the county. Finally, Massoud agrees to do so for $45.000 in exchange for Kathy putting the house in his own name. Lester accepts.

Massoud and his son accompany Lester to the county office to finalize the transaction. On the steps, Lester begins to manhandle Massoud, and Esmail finally reaches the end of his patience with Lester. He seizes Lester's gun and aims it at him while Massoud grabs Lester from behind and screams for help. Though disheveled, Lester still wears his police uniform and the commotion draws two police officers. To them a fellow officer is being held hostage. The officers draw their weapons and in the confusion Esmail Behrani turns towards them. They shoot in what they believe to be self defense. Esmail is rushed to hospital, but does not survive. Lester is arrested and taken to prison.

Overcome with grief, Massoud returns home. He drugs his wife's tea with a lethal dose of medication, then dons his old military uniform, tapes a plastic dust cover around his head, and slowly asphyxiates beside his wife's body. Kathy finds the couple and attempts to revive Massoud with CPR, but is unsuccessful.

As Massoud and Nadereh are being taken away by paramedics, a policeman asks Kathy if the house is hers. After a guilty pause, she quietly replies that it isn't.

Production notes

Shohreh Aghdashloo was a respected actress in Iran before emigrating to the United States. When the film roles she was offered were limited to terrorists and other assorted villains, she turned to a career in the theatre. This film marked her return to the screen after nearly two decades.

Jonathan Ahdout, whose previous acting experience was limited to school plays, was cast as Esmail Behrani two days prior to the start of filming. His original audition had not impressed Vadim Perelman, but when he began to have doubts about the actor he ultimately had hired, he reviewed the audition tapes and saw something in Ahdout's performance he felt he previously had overlooked. He called him back and had him meet and perform with Aghdashloo. The chemistry between them convinced Perelman the boy was right for the part.

Establishing shots were filmed in San Francisco, Carpinteriamarker, Pacifica, San Mateo County, and Santa Clarita, but the house of the title actually is located in Malibumarker.

An original soundtrack album featuring James Horner's film score and songs by Mohammad Heydari and Elton Ahi and lyrics by Leila Kasra was released by Varèse Sarabande.

The film grossed $13,040,288 in the US and $3,902,507 in foreign markets for a worldwide box office total of $16,942,795.

Principal cast

Critical reception

In his review in the New York Times, A.O. Scott called the film "an impressively self-assured directing debut" and added, "[it] is the nearly flawless execution of a deeply flawed premise. Mr. Perelman inadvertently exposes the inconsistencies in Mr. Dubus's novel even as he comes very close to overcoming them . . . the conflict between Kathy and Behrani arises from a sin so trivial as to be almost comical . . . and every stage of its escalation seems determined less by the psychology of the characters than by the forced, schematic logic of the story. You feel the heavy, implacable force of the narrative without quite believing it."

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said, "Here is a film that seizes us with its first scene and never lets go, and we feel sympathy all the way through for everyone in it . . . it stands with integrity and breaks our hearts."

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly rated the film B- with the comments, "[it] has its pretensions, but mostly it's a vigorous and bracingly acted melodrama spun off from a situation that's pure human-thriller catnip . . . though I do wish that the movie didn't spiral into the most shocking of tragedies."

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated it three out of a possible four stars and added, "Before it runs off course into excess, this brilliantly acted film version of the 1999 novel by Andre Dubus III moves with a stabbing urgency . . . Vadim Perelman . . . makes a smashing debut in features . . . Prepare for an emotional wipeout."

In The New Yorker, David Denby stated, "Ben Kingsley . . . [is] the only entertainment in this noble pool of despair . . . Vadim Perelman . . . produces scenes of great intensity, but he doesn’t capture the colloquial ease and humor of American life."

In Salon, Andrew O'Hehir said it "features an astonishing pair of lead performances and one of this year's most impressive directing debuts."

Channel 4 says, "There's nothing wrong in funnelling operatic tragedy through seemingly mundane domestic battles, but the way events escalate here feels deeply fraudulent . . . heavy-handed allegory and symbolism wait at every turn . . . . though relentlessly downbeat, this is so overwrought, underdeveloped and ham-fisted that it's more unintentionally comic than genuinely tragic."

Rotten Tomatoes had a "Fresh" rating of 76% out of 165 reviews, with a consensus that it was a "[p]owerful and thought provoking film".

Box office

The film as released on December 19, 2003 and opened at #43,grossing $45,572 in the opening weekend. Its final grossing in the domestic market was $13,040,288 while its foreign grossing was $3,902,507 for an international total of $16.94m. It's budget was $16.5 million.

Awards and nominations


  1. House of Sand and Fog DVD Special Features
  2. House of Sand and Fog DVD Special Features
  3. House of Sand and Fog at Box Office Mojo
  4. New York Times review
  5. Chicago Sun-Times review
  6. Entertainment Weekly review
  7. Rolling Stone review
  8. The New Yorker review
  9. Salon review
  10. Channel 4 review
  11. Rotten Tomatoes

External links

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