Áurea arrives at a town in the dunes of State of Maranhão, Brazil, in 1910, having for female company only her mother Maria. She is pregnant and wants a way out of that arid place. But leaving is difficult and, somehow, she still hopes to find happiness there. The film follows these two lives for three generations, including Áurea's daughter. Written by
The movie was filmed entirely in the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, an ecosystem of sand dunes in Maranhão State (northeastern Brazil). See more »
The movie takes pains to make reference to real events. However, the location marker erected for the scientific party at the total solar eclipse shows the wrong date. It should be 29.05.1919. See more »
A masterpiece of dreams and passions unwillingly inherited
I kept the postcard. I had narrowly missed this film when I was in Brasil, where it went on to run for 14 consecutive weeks. They had those little free postcards they use to advertise just about anything these days. The House of Sand postcards were particularly beautiful, so I took them home and kept them.
More than a year later, the postcards are in a dusty folder somewhere, but the image remains in my mind, and leapt out at me when I saw the film advertised in the 2006 Edinburgh International Film Festival. It's one of those exquisite photos, rivalling even The English Patient, and conveys stark beautiful lighting, a woman, and white desert dunes. Worth seeing for the cinematography alone surely, but it turns out to be one of those gems that every festival-goer prays for.
On the shimmering sandy plains of northern Maranhão, three generations of women live dreams and passions unwillingly inherited, experiencing profound depths of despair and fulfilment. Opening scenes of sweeping white sand dunes focus in to the wind and weather torn faces of a small stream of people, battling forward. Áurea has come to this wilderness at the will of her husband, who has some title deeds near a lagoon. Twists of fate soon leave her isolated in this desolate place with only her mother, Dona Maria, and pregnant. At first desperate to find a way out, Áurea gradually comes to realise she belongs here.
The scenery (shot in beautiful 2K widescreen) brings together the ferocity of nature and the elements, reflected in the passion of the leading character, her indomitable spirit, and her adaptability. Bringing together some of the finest talent in Brasil, House of Sand works on a visual and dramatic level that is heightened by an artistry that is almost metaphysical. In the wilderness, a person's relationship with themselves becomes different, as happens with Áurea. There is just you - no emergency services to fall back on. The senses are turned in on themselves and the workings of the 'real world' become less important. In the film, a long period of time is marked by various events, either astronomical (the solar eclipse photographed by scientists in Brasil in 1919 that led to the proof of Einstein's theory of relativity), or completely external (a war, and later the landing of a man on the moon) to the real world lived in by these women over a period of 60 years. The desert is the nothingness, the shifting sands to which all return. The relativity within their lives forms an ongoing story that moves from the woman to her daughter. This continuity is reflected symbolically by both lead actresses playing different women at different periods of those characters' lives - although the make-up is sufficient to maintain a straightforward, linear story (although as well as being two of the most renowned actresses in Brasil, they also happen to be real life mother and daughter).
Dialogue and background music are both pared down to enhance the images and scenes. Said scriptwriter Elena Soáres, "Dialogue is something dangerous because it is almost the opposite of cinema. One can fall into a trap. One tends to resolve everything through dialogue but cinema works with another peculiarity. It resolves itself with the image." Similarly music is an important theme, the thing that Áurea most misses, so is not added in the usual overt way just as background.
For Áurea, the wilderness she lives in, its nothingness, is the absence of all that is desired. Sand that even (at one point) covers her physical house. But, like the men who went to the moon - all that was there was nothing - in that search was found something that no physical prize could equate. House of Sand is one of those timeless masterpieces that occurs very infrequently. It is the jewel that makes worthwhile wading through an endless smorgasbord of lesser films to find.
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