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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
The House of Sand (2005)

"I don't know what would have happened to us here without you. But I need you to help us one last time."
- Áurea (Fernanda Torres)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: December 11, 2006

Stars: Fernanda Montenegro, Fernanda Torres
Other Stars: Seu Jorge, Ruy Guerra
Director: Andrucha Waddington

MPAA Rating: R for (some graphic sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:54m:58s
Release Date: December 12, 2006
UPC: 043396157200
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+A+A B-

DVD Review

It is the year 1910, and José Vasco de Sá (Ruy Guerra) has traveled with his pregnant wife, Áurea (played initially by Fernanda Torres) and her mother, Maria (played initially by Fernanda Montenegro) to an area of Maranhão, Brazil that he has a land deed for. After José's accidental death, the two ladies are left to fend for themselves, and seek the help of Massu (initially played by Seu Jorge), a widower among a group of ex-slave fishermen. As the years pass, their make-shift house is engulfed by the surrounding sand, leaving Áurea longing to return to civilization with her daughter, Maria.

The House of Sand is one of the best films of 2006. Bringing to mind the unarguably original works of Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven), this is a film that is experienced rather than simply watched. Director Andrucha Waddington (Torres' real-life husband) crafts a masterful tale, spanning three generations of a family literally stuck in the sand. From 1910 to 1969, the two matriarchs come to realize their place, and come to call their sandy prison home, making decent lives for themselves along the way. For the first half, we come to know the dynamics of this family and get a feel for their predicament, but the most compelling aspect is the second hour, as characters we initially saw as much younger return to bring everything full-circle. Waddington has strayed from his previous tendency for straight-narrative stories with this irresistible, time-jumping drama.

Whether you find the drama compelling or not, there's no denying just how beautiful The House of Sand is. Full of scenic white sandy desert vistas, you'll marvel at the amazing shots captured. Still, although the sand deserves its own place in the credits, this is primarily an acting showcase. The two Fernandas give Oscar-worthy performances, but it's Montenegro (previously nominated for Central Station) that most deserves another nod from the Academy. Having two actors play multiple characters has been done before, but the sheer emotion that is so naturally transferred by this pair of actresses is truly genuine and moving. The younger Torres (Montenegro's real-life daughter) gives a brave series of performances, inhabiting the vastly different characters with a charisma that is rarely seen. She also takes part in an incredibly erotic scene with the Massu character (Seu Jorge from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) that sets the stage for her later embodiment of the Maria character, and would have felt out of place and even exploitative in a lesser film.

The final scene takes place in 1969 and finds an older Maria (Montenegro) traveling back to the titular house, where she finds her mother, Áurea (also Montenegro) living out her years. This perfect denouement gives us a satisfying sense of closure, while avoiding being a cheap excuse to tug at the audience's heartstrings. I haven't seen a director pick the perfect time to fade to black in years, but Waddington does just that in The House of Sand, wrapping up what is a flawless, exhilarating cinematic experience from start to finish.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: You'll have a hard time finding a better-looking foreign film in 2006, and this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is nearly flawless. Each and every hue practically bursts off the screen, with the pearl white sand dominating most of the scenes. Shadow and black levels hold up well also, especially during the nighttime sequences.

Image Transfer Grade: A+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix features especially liberal use of the surrounds, with great channel separation. Much of the film is dialogue-driven, and there aren't any problems in that department. Still, there's enough blowing sand and gusting wind to make this a far more dynamic track than expected.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Portuguese with remote access
9 Other Trailer(s) featuring Volver, American Hardcore, Quinceañera, L'Enfant, Don't Come Knocking, Central Station, Dreamland, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Holiday
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Along with a collection of previews, we get the wonderful 52-minute documentary Making of The House of Sand. This comprehensive piece goes over the making of the film from conception to casting and throughout the shoot, giving us a great feel for how much work and love went into this amazing project.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

A wonderful surprise from Brazil, The House of Sand is a tale of three strong female characters played by two actors over a 59-year period. The actors pull this trick off, and then some, delivering two of the best performances of the year. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's DVD features excellent audio and video presentations, and goes above and beyond with a fine documentary on the making of the film.


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