After an absence of more than five years, filmmaker Andrucha
Waddington makes a strong return with
, a gorgeously photographed quasi-historical epic
that traces three generations of women in a remote region of Brazil.
It also doesn't hurt that the women are portrayed over time by two
of Brazil's best actresses, the mother-daughter team of Fernanda
Montenegro and Fernanda Torres. (They also happen to be the director's
mother-in-law and wife, respectively.)

 While the story for
HOUSE OF SAND feels fact-based, it comes as
something of a surprise to discover that it entirely fictional. Producer Luiz
Carlos Barreto had seen a photograph of a house buried in sand dunes in
northeastern Brazil. Using that image as a starting point, Waddington
and screenwriter Elena Soárez (who had previously worked together on
GÊMEAS and 2000's EU TU ELES/ME YOU THEM) concocted this
epic multi-generational story that also provides a pair of strong roles for
two of the world's best actresses.

 The film opens with gorgeous shots of the lunar-like sand dunes
that are found in Maranhão state in northeastern Brazil. Immediately, the
audience is transported to an unfamiliar world. It soon becomes clear that
it is early in the 20th Century (1910 to be exact) and a caravan is
making its way across the dunes. The megalomaniac at the head of this
expedition is Vasco de Sá (portrayed by film director Ruy Guerra), who
has brought along his pregnant wife Áurea (Torres) and her mother
Donha Maria (Montenegro). When the folly of de Sá's ideals becomes
apparent, both mother and daughter attempt to find a way out.
Unfortunately, those who accompanied them decide to leave one
evening and de Sá is killed when a structure collapse on him. The
women turn to locals -- former slaves including the sympathetic
Massu (Seu Jorge, recalled from both
THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU).While they desire to depart
this seemingly godforsaken land, Donha Maria won't allow her pregnant
daughter to travel. After the child's birth, another tragedy makes it clear
that they are destined to remain on this land.

 Waddington makes the passage of time subtle -- perhaps too subtle
for some -- and has the leading ladies exchange roles. The adult Áurea is
now portrayed by Montenegro while Torres assumes the role of Áurea's
grown-up daughter Maria. Like her mother before her, Maria desires
to leave and thanks to fate and a soldier who loved her mother, she is
able to realize her dream. In a final coup de cinéma, Montenegro plays
both an elderly Áurea and the middle-aged Maria, allowing the film to
end on a lovely and bittersweet moment.

 I know that some critics have objected to Waddington's conceit of
having the actresses share the roles, but I had no trouble with it. Indeed,
it made my enjoyment of the film that much greater. It also allows the two
women the opportunity to demonstrate their amazing versatility. One can
see vestiges of the girl who was Áurea in the adult. Torres excels in both
roles and she is equally matched by her mother. They are strongly
supported by Seu Jorge and Luíz Melodia who share the role of Massu,
and by Enrique Díaz and Stênio Garcia sharing the part of the soldier Luíz.
Special mention has to be made of the production design by Tulé Peake
and the exquisite cinematography of Ricardo della Rosa.

 HOUSE OF SAND may not be to everyone's taste, but it was a film
that moved me tremendously and which I highly recommend to anyone
who appreciates great acting.

                 Rating:              A-
                 MPAA Raing:       R for some graphic sexuality
                                 Running time:     103 mins.

                   Viewed at the SONY Screening Room
House of Sand
(Casa de areia)
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.