House of Sand And Fog directed by Vadim Perelman, written by Perelman and Shawn Lawrence Otto from the novel by Andre Dubus III, produced by Perelman, Otto and Michael London, with Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley. 120 minutes. A DreamWorks production and release. For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 84. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Dreamworks, no stranger to the term "Oscar hopeful," knows exactly how to market House Of Sand And Fog, a subtly moving, oftentimes jarring film adaptation of Andre Dubus's prize-winning and Oprah-knighted novel of the same name. If the star power of Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley doesn't pull you in, not to worry. Meet first-time director Vadim Perelman, the struggling Russian immigrant made good. Who better to identify with Iranian character Behrani (Kingsley) - who wants the milk-and-honey America promises - than the underdog who came to Los Angeles by way of Canada with the same high hopes and ambition?
"The American dream doesn't exist," Perelman says disdainfully, seated in his Four Seasons suite during a swing through Toronto last month. "It's a myth, people reaching for the brass ring, running on a treadmill - and the faster you run, the faster the treadmill goes."
Perelman has a strong background directing commercials, but he's equally dismissive of that part of his resumé.
"It's a soulless business, it's not art. People keep asking about the message behind House Of Sand And Fog, and Andre (novelist Dubus) and I both say there is no message. It's a Rorschach test for feelings and emotions. Any work of art that begins with a message becomes propaganda, like Triumph Of The Will."
That's not to say Perelman can't relate to Behrani, but he's quick to point out, "This is about the shades of grey. There are parts of Behrani and Kathy Nicolo in all of us. The rigidity, the pride. We're all complicated people."
No wonder Dubus was so confident about handing Perelman the rights to his beloved book. After nurturing this complicated tale for four years, looking to gain the respect of his peers and live up to his famous father's talent (his father wrote the short story Killings, which inspired the film In The Bedroom), Dubus wasn't willing to say yes to just anyone.
"Vadim spoke so intelligently, so passionately, man-to-man, no bullshit."
He laughs away fears of his "baby" being destroyed.
"If I wasn't happy, believe me, you wouldn't be talking to me. I'd be hiding."
So, is Perelman pleased with Dubus's enthusiasm, all the buzz and future opportunities, including his upcoming project with Steven Spielberg?
"It's great to think I might pick up that gold statue, but anyone with any ambition is never really satisfied. There's always more you can do, more you can achieve."
Even if the Academy smiles on him come March, it will be a hollow victory.
"My real dream is to be a novelist. If a screenwriter could write the great American novel, I think he would. If you're really talented, you write books. Those who can't make movies."