DreamWorks new movie for the holiday season, House of Sand and Fog, based on Andre Dubus III bestselling novel with the same title, is poised to intrigue Iranian-Americans due to its Iranian-American lead characters, its complex portrayal of Iranian cultural traits, and it being one of the first Hollywood productions in which Middle Easterners are depicted as multifaceted individuals and not one-dimensional shooting targets.
The movie astutely captures the dark side of the immigrant experience in America, an experience that may be all too familiar to many Iranian Americans. Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley – Gandhi), a former Royalist colonel in the Iranian military, is living a life beyond his means, desperately trying to keep up the pretense of the wealth and power he once enjoyed in pre-revolutionary Iran in order to enhance his daughter's chances of making a good marriage.
Risking the remainder of his fortune to restore his family's dignity, he buys a small house at an auction in order to restore it and sell it for four times its original price. However, what was supposed to be an ingenious business transaction quickly develops into a trajectory to disaster.
The house has been auctioned because of a bureaucratic error, and Behrani's plans are jeopardized when Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly – A Beautiful Mind), the self-destructive and alcoholic owner of the house, begins to protest the sale.
What starts out as a legal scuffle soon spirals into a personal confrontation, starting a tug of war between two struggling, proud people, each buoyed by the genuine belief that they have justice on their side. To both of them, the house represents something more than just a place to live. To the former Iranian colonel, the beachfront home is the first step to restoring his family's pre-revolutionary lifestyle. To Nicolo, the house represents an illusionary safe-haven that helps her veil the failure that she has become.
Besides being a movie with an undeniably deep emotional touch and a prime Oscar contender, it is also one of Hollywood's first refined and sophisticated portrayals of Iranians and Iranian Americans. Although the trailer of the movie may give the impression that Colonel Berhani is the “bad guy” — an unreasonable and aggressive man untouched by human feelings — it belies the movie which leaves the audience with a deep feeling of sympathy and admiration for the proud and dignified Iranian-American.
Although a portrayal is just that — a subjective portrayal of reality and not reality itself — Dubus and Perelman's depiction of Iranian-Americans and Iranian culture may be incomplete, but it is not unrealistic. It is a blend of the positive and negative that constitutes all cultures, and it is a step in the right direction for Hollywood; away from its simplistic, Manichean perspective and towards a polished outlook with a focus on the essence of the individual and not the misleading emotions of the stereotype.
Trita Parsi is President of the Nationail Iranian American Council.
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