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Casa de Areia (The House of Sand)

(2006) ** R
103 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: Andrucha Waddington. Cast: Fernanda Montenegro, Fernanda Torres, Ruy Guerra, Seu Jorge, Luis Melodia.

Curiosity seekers may wish to check out Andrucha Waddington's latest film Casa de Areia (The House of Sand), which stars his wife Fernanda Torres in two roles, and her mother Fernanda Montenegro in three roles (Seu Jorge of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou has a key supporting role). Led by a deluded man to a barren Brazilian desert, three generations of women endure hardships. The trick plot enabling this Electra Complex situation tragedy is somewhat novel, but surprisingly not enough to sustain even a 103-minute running time.

The intergenerational narrative begins in 1910 in Maranhao State, Brazil, where the caravan of fools finds the sandy lagoons old Vasco (Ruy Guerra) has been seeking. "This is no place for a child," his pregnant wife Áurea (Torres) complains, with her mother Donna Maria (Montenegro) in tow. "This is no place for anyone." "There is no going back," Vasco replies. Nine years later, Áurea is raising her daughter Maria (Camilla Facundes) in the wasteland where her family—continually played by the same actresses—will languish for the better part of the twentienth century.

The theme is that sinking feeling called life—an erosion of time, a cycle of aging in which daughters supplant mothers until the sun eventually burns out. Sound depressing? It is, and Waddington's deliberate pacing, and emphasis on image over dialogue, succeed in fashioning a handsome but plodding picture (the signs of civilization unconvincingly situated in a harsh natural expanse suggest The Piano). Some will enjoy Waddington's ironic poetry of space and relativity, but more will see a parody of art-house pretention.

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