House of Sand (2005)

A while back, before my library card become useless because of too many overdue books/films, I was frantically watching as many Brazilian films as they had. Unfortunately, the only have around 20 as of my last visit. One of the first ones that I borrowed was Andrucha Waddington’s House of Sand. As you may know, I am not a fan of writing out extensively about plot details so her is the Synopsis is courtesy of Berlinale.

It is the year 1910. Dona Áurea and her mother Maria find themselves in Maranhão, a godforsaken part of the country in the middle of a desert in northern Brazil. Áurea’s husband Vasco is possessed by the demented belief that he can make this desolate earth fertile – a mistaken conviction that will cost him his life. When he dies, Áurea is pregnant; she and her mother are soon alone with the new-born child in the house on top of the dune. For them it is nothing but a prison of sand from which there is no escape. Áurea’s only confidante is Massu, who lives in a nearby community of runaway slaves. Massu is the one who teaches her how to make a living by barter and exchange. Dona Áurea’s hopes of one day leaving the place forever at the side of a travelling salt salesman named Chico all come to nothing and so, she is obliged to accept her fate. However, she does find brief respite in the arms of Lieutenant Luiz, who arrives in 1919 with a group of scientists to observe the eclipse of the sun. Áurea’s desire to see the wide world lives on in her daughter, young Maria, who attempts to rebel against their bleak surroundings by pursuing a wild, even dissipated lifestyle … but even she will never be able to shake off the sand of Maranhão.It is the year 1910. Dona Áurea and her mother Maria find themselves in Maranhão, a godforsaken part of the country in the middle of a desert in northern Brazil. Áurea’s husband Vasco is possessed by the demented belief that he can make this desolate earth fertile – a mistaken conviction that will cost him his life. When he dies, Áurea is pregnant; she and her mother are soon alone with the new-born child in the house on top of the dune. For them it is nothing but a prison of sand from which there is no escape. Áurea’s only confidante is Massu, who lives in a nearby community of runaway slaves. Massu is the one who teaches her how to make a living by barter and exchange. Dona Áurea’s hopes of one day leaving the place forever at the side of a travelling salt salesman named Chico all come to nothing and so, she is obliged to accept her fate. However, she does find brief respite in the arms of Lieutenant Luiz, who arrives in 1919 with a group of scientists to observe the eclipse of the sun. Áurea’s desire to see the wide world lives on in her daughter, young Maria, who attempts to rebel against their bleak surroundings by pursuing a wild, even dissipated lifestyle … but even she will never be able to shake off the sand of Maranhão.

 

What I loved about this movie is that even though it has that dreaded three-arc storyline that is far too prevalent in movies, it had the spirit of a slice of life film, albeit in odd circumstances. It is a beautifully shot film, thanks in no small part due to the locale. But more importantly than it being simply beautiful, is that the desert (and the sky in parts) function as their own characters. The bright sun beads across the lush lucid sand which made it understandable why the husband, in part, originally wanted to live out there. It also functions as imprisonment though because the same brightly colored sand makes the heat unbearable, and even if you can stand that the sky seems to merge with the sand forming a singular vast entity that makes travel in any and every direction far too daunting for those who are not foolhardy.

The acting in the film is brilliant as well. It always natural, and even in instances when the frustrations are allowed to come to the surface, nothing ever feels bombastic or calculated. A lot of the acting that takes place is internalized in the characters and the viewers are forced to observe the motions and facial expresses to know what is happening. I can’t remember if there was ever music attempting to guide the emotions, but that is always a good thing for it to be absent or at the minimum at least. There are exclusions to this personal rule as well, but yeah.

All in all, I love the pace of the film. It was simultaneously always fleeting but ever present. Much like the dunes that it is shot in, it can be a tedious watch for most who aren’t accustom to the pace, but the journey in always beautiful and fulfilling all along the way even with the pains of frustration that will surely come about.

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About panamaenrique

Afro-Latino film lover in NYC. I love blues, jazz, soul, funk, and everything else under the sun. Any questions, comments, or concerns about anything I say, feel free to hit me up. My contact info is there and I'll be sure to give you a lengthy response about what I said and why I said it.
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