House of Sand and Fog is a 2003 American drama film directed by Vadim Perelman. The screenplay by Perelman and Shawn Lawrence Otto is based on the novel of the same name by Andre Dubus III.
The story concerns the battle between a young woman and an immigrant
Iranian family over the ownership of a house in Northern California,
which ultimately leads to the destruction of four lives. The film was
nominated for three Academy Awards, Best Actor (Ben Kingsley), Best Supporting Actress (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and Best Original Score (James Horner).
Abandoned by her husband, recovering drug addict Kathy Nicolo, living alone in a small house near San Francisco Bay Area,
ignores eviction notices erroneously sent to her for nonpayment of
county taxes. Assuming the misunderstanding was cleared up months ago,
she is surprised when Sheriff's Deputy Lester Burdon arrives to forcibly
evict her. Telling Kathy that her home is to be auctioned off, Burdon
feels sympathy for her, helps her move out and advises her to seek legal
assistance to regain her house.
A former Imperial Iranian Army
Colonel Massoud Amir Behrani who fled his homeland with his family, now
lives in the Bay Area working multiple menial jobs. Living beyond his
means, he maintains the façade of a respectable businessman so as not to
shame his wife Nadereh, son Esmail, and daughter Soraya.
Seeing the auction of Kathy's house in the newspaper, he buys it for a
quarter of its actual value, intending to improve and sell the house.
While driving by, Kathy is angered to see her house being renovated and
confronts the workers, injuring her foot. Nadereh and Esmail treat her
wound, but her jealousy at seeing how the Behranis have settled in only
makes her more determined to get her house back.
Taking Lester's advice, Kathy finds an attorney who assures her that
because of the county's mistake, they will return Massoud's money and
the house will be restored to her. Massoud, having already spent money
on improving the house, is unwilling to accept anything less than the
much higher appraised value of the property, which the county refuses to
pay. Informed that her only option is to sue the county, Kathy instead
tries to convince Massoud to sell back the house for what he paid by
telling him she and her brother inherited it from their father. Massoud
refuses and angrily forces Kathy back into her car.
Desperate for help, Kathy seeks out Lester and seduces him into
abandoning his wife and children and becoming her protector. Using a
pseudonym, Lester confronts Massoud and threatens to have him deported
if he refuses to sell the house back to the county. Massoud reports this
to the police and identifies Lester from a photo, resulting in a
reprimand by internal affairs,
and gives Kathy a furious warning to back off and leave him and his
family alone. Now aware that Lester is in trouble, Kathy calls her
brother Frank, but cannot bring herself to admit that she is homeless,
and he is unable to help her.
Despondent, Kathy first considers driving to the house and burning
it, but after becoming drunk attempts suicide in the driveway with
Lester's sidearm instead. Massoud finds her in her car drunkenly unable
to discharge the gun, and brings her inside. Kathy again tries to kill
herself with pills, but Nadereh saves her by inducing her to vomit. As
she and her husband carry Kathy to the bedroom, Lester breaks into the
house, retrieves his sidearm, sees Kathy unconscious, and locks the
Behranis in their own bathroom, refusing to let them out until Massoud
agrees to relinquish the house. Massoud eventually offers to sell the
house back to the county for the price he paid and will give Kathy the
money in exchange for her putting the house in his name. Lester agrees
to take Massoud and Esmail to the county office to finalize the
transaction, and Kathy reluctantly goes along with the plan.
Outside the office, Lester begins to manhandle Massoud and Esmail
seizes Lester's gun and aims it at him. Massoud grabs hold of Lester and
screams for help, drawing the attention of nearby police officers who
misinterpret the situation and shoot Esmail. Massoud is arrested but is
released after Lester confesses, and is incarcerated.
Massoud rushes to the hospital and while he is there he prays,
begging God to save his son and vowing to make whatever changes he needs
to in his life. But he finds his son did not survive. Distraught and
grief-stricken, Massoud goes home and, believing they have nothing left
to live for, kills Nadereh by lacing her tea with pills. He then dons
his old military uniform,
tapes a plastic dust cover over his head, and asphyxiates himself while
clutching his wife's hand. Kathy eventually discovers the couple and
frantically attempts to resuscitate Massoud but she is too late. As the
bodies of Massoud and Nadereh are taken away by paramedics, a policeman
asks Kathy if the house is hers. After a long pause, she quietly
replies, "No, it's not my house."