The House of Sand

Director: Andrucha Waddington

While this sun-drenched, award-winning epic about three generations of women living in near isolation in the sandy northern region of the Brazilian coast begins slowly and methodically, by its conclusion, we feel profoundly moved, emotionally stirred and near-tears by the film’s overwhelming beauty. Beginning in 1910, we meet the pregnant Aurea (the director’s wife, Fernanda Torres) who is being led out to the desert by her tyrannical, mentally unstable, elderly husband who hopes to start a farm in the sand and escape the debts and fast city life of the Brazilian capital. After tragedy strikes, Aurea and her mother (Central Station actress Fernanda Montenegro) are left on their own, desperate and frightened, braving the elements of ferocious winds that kick the sand up to record speeds and may therefore sink their fragile home (obviously a metaphor for their new life). Things are unquestionably bleak until they meet a kind fisherman from a neighboring settlement and finally begin to make a life for themselves. Visually awe-inspiring, the film plays best on big screen television sets equipped with state-of-the-art sound in order to get the intended overwhelming effect of the setting. Although there are those who may want to give up on the film due to the languorous, melancholic opening, I urge audiences to stick with it as-- once past the half-hour mark-- it’s nearly impossible not to feel fully engaged as if we were one of the desert survivors as well. Not only a gorgeous feast for the senses, the film is also fascinating study of both sociology and feminism as we follow three very different generations of women adapting to their environment in various ways while oblivious to the goings on (wars, scientific breakthroughs, etc.) around them. While Aurea longs for a return to civilization, her mother relishes in the independence of her new life where she says she doesn’t have to listen to the orders of men. Most heartbreaking is the story of the youngest female, Maria, who, born in the desert, struggles with the only environment she’s ever known—ignorant in the ways of anything except for the sand to such an extent that she confesses to having no grasp of the idea of music. In the end of the piece, when music is finally played in the desert, we realize (just as much as the characters do in this striking and curious film), how much we’ve missed it as well and also how much we take for granted on a daily basis.