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HOUSE OF SAND

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Andrucha Waddington's drama starts mysteriously, as abstract images resolve into a vast, empty landscape speckled with a caravan. It's 1910 in Brazil's Maranhão desert, and íurea, the young, pregnant wife of a madman, will soon be abandoned to her fate here, alone but for her mother, Maria. While meditatively paced, much of the film remains mesmerizing, as the three women (íurea now has a daughter) attempt to make sense of ... and some peace with ... their situation; íurea longs to leave, yet the desert is a virtual deadly labyrinth. In a clever bit of casting, actresses Fernanda Montenegro and her real-life daughter Fernanda Torres portray both mother and daughter across three generations. As intrigued as I was by the otherwordliness of the setting and story (and reminded of the Japanese sand-as-allegory classic Woman in the Dunes), I found the film's conclusion, rooted more in traditional melodrama, to be less satisfying. In Portuguese, with subtitles. (AH)

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