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Literature / House of Sand and Fog

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Excuse me, madam, is this your house?

House of Sand and Fog is a 1999 novel written by Andre Dubus III. It was later made into a 2003 film diected by Vadim Perelman, starring Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Connelly, and Shohreh Aghdashloo.

Kathy Nicolo, a former drug addict, loses her Californian bungalow in an unfair legal dispute with the county and has nowhere else to go. Massoud Amir Behrani, an Iranian immigrant living the United States, buys it in hopes that he can fix it and sell it for a higher price to help his family. Both believe that they are entitled to the house and the conflict turns to tragedy.

The novel and film provide examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The film for the most part is faithful to the novel up until the ending, which is considerably darker in the source material.
  • Agony of the Feet: The movie has a scene where Kathy impales her bare foot on a board with a nail sticking out of it.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: The story refuses to take a side as both main characters have valid reasons for refusing to relinquish the house.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Kathy's lawyer points out the whole situation would have been averted if she had just checked her mail.
  • Creator Cameo: Dubus has a cameo in the film.
  • Dead Sparks: At some point after they married, Lester became unable to see his wife as a lover, feeling a sense of wrongness as if she were his sister. As a result, he begins having an affair with Kathy.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Deputy Lester Burdon essentially fulfills this in the third act when he barges in on the Behrani family taking care of Kathy and jumps to conclusions. Less so in the novel where his character is more developed, but in the film his character's role in the climax is considerably jarring.
  • Dirty Cop: Lester's involvement with Kathy leads him to abuse his office in an attempt to intimidate Colonel Behrani.
  • Downer Ending: It doesn't end well for anyone.
  • Dressing to Die: Colonel Behrani puts on his uniform before committing suicide.
  • Face Death with Dignity: In the film, unlike the book, Colonel Behrani is composed and dignified as he kills his wife and then himself.
  • Former Regime Personnel: The Colonel was part of the Shah's military before the revolution came and forced him to flee with his family. He wasn't directly involved in the human rights abuses that were committed in the Shah's name, but admittedly he knew about them and didn't do much besides avoiding association with people who were. Since escaping Iran, he's put his former career behind him.
  • Honor-Related Abuse: Back when they lived in Iran, Colonel Behrani's brother shot his own daughter for shaming the family with her sexual transgressions. Despite sharing his brother's conservative mores, the Colonel can't imagine himself being able to kill his own child.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens and ends with the same scene of Kathy's character staring blankly at her house.
  • Lighter and Softer: Dark as it is, the film's ending is this to the novel. After his son dies, Behrani finds Kathy still in his home and strangles her; she doesn't die. (This scene was shot and is available as a deleted scene.) Behrani later suffocates his wife with a pillow before killing himself. In the film, she goes willingly with a poisoned drink. The film also omits Kathy going to prison.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: No one wins. Behrani's son is killed, and he kills his wife and then himself. Lester and (in the novel) Kathy are arrested and await trial.
  • Suicide Pact: In the film, Behrani and his wife agree to commit suicide together.
  • Unconfessed Unemployment: Behrani doesn't want to admit to his family that the only work he can find is as a trash collector and convenience store clerk. He makes a point of wearing a suit and tie when he leaves for work and putting it on again before he comes home.

Alternative Title(s): House Of Sand And Fog