Sunday, July 08, 2007

Netflix Experiment #1: House of Sand

by Ryland Walker Knight


House of Sand would be something very special if it were not so sentimental. Some of its formal conceits are daring enough but the film does not follow through thanks to a few scenes of obvious emotional pandering and a sex scene that goes nowhere despite being kind of beautiful. That's the main problem with the picture on the whole: its visual sense is breathtaking, and the lead actresses (real-life mother and daughter pair) Fernanda Montenegro and Fernanda Torres are rather affective, but its emotional core feels bland instead of rapturous. I really wanted to like the movie, too, after its lunar opening shot (above) and the lack of spell-it-out exposition. For an epic about stasis it stays put and moves pretty well at the same time; it is alternately gorgeous and boring. And I've seen Woman in the Dunes, and I've seen an hourglass, and I love Antoinoni. But this movie, made by Andrucha Waddington (Torres' husband), is just a little too safe to be as good as it looks like it might turn out early on. It winds up playing more like lite Claire Denis, only not even that good (or oblique). There are a few good surprises that initially frustrate its structural tidiness, as when Montenegro winds up playing Torres' character later in the film, after about 20 years of elapsed time, but I knew exactly where everything was going the next minute, and it lived up to those previously-held expectations of procedural storytelling. The best thing it's got going for it aside from its photography and the central pairing of mother and daughter is its belief that the here and now is here and now forever, whether we like it or not. The idea of inheritance buried by time is kind of cool, too, but then it tries to undo that and transcend to the stars, which kind of feels like an about-face lie right there at the close. Once again, the shot is wondrous imagery but only half thought out. But I still qualify it as "kind of" because the one nugget of good payoff dialogue equates the moon with the sand-wrecked landscape of the title: time, at the end of the world, is the only constant. You can either play along or not but time is indifferent to you. See, that's cool, but obvious.

[Cuz it's too pretty to keep to myself, the final shot:]
waves of sand
waves of sand
waves of sand
waves of sand

[As the first member of this Netflix Experiment, finally, it went alright. I'm trying to be generous and I know it was kind of a lazy viewing/reading but I really think the immediacy of the project, from here on out, will be its best feature, and practice tool, for me. Expect better next time. Just needed to bang this one out so I could move on to the next one. I wonder: What's next?]

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