24 April 2009

House of Fog and Sand

Ben Kingsley's best ever screen acting performance. It enters the Realm's top 20 movie list. But who has heard of it?

Last night I watched for the first time this 2003 movie with the above singularly uninspiring name. A debut by director Vadim Perelman.

It is an unheralded masterpiece of Shakespearean stature. Ben Kingsley's performance as an immigrant refugee to the US from post-Shah Iran is as fine a screen acting performance as I've ever seen by anyone, anytime. And Jennifer Connelly's nuanced and edgy rendition of her flawed character was revelatory.

I have since briefly Googled, Wikipeed and Amazoned it, discovering it is based on a book by an Andre Dubus III. The Amazon book reviews are mixed.

Surprisingly the brief reviews of the movie I've seen also seem mixed. Some even suggest this movie lacks believability. They must live in some cossetted urban Westernised material uberworld in which the type of espresso they order is a defining existential choice. Do these post-modern latte sipping would-be cineastes not have human fibre enough to feel the palpable exhilaration, when, after suspending disbelief and daring to plunge into the void, a creator weaves a path for you through the seductions of relativism and beyond the barbarism of nihilism, to a fleeting moment of clarity that is participation in the triumph of humanity through art?

I am astonished that anyone with feeling and insight into the human condition could not be moved by so credible a use of a trivial clerical error as a fulcrum for epically realised human tragedy. Or could it be that such superficial dismissal of far reaching aspiration for meaning, is the chosen de rigure posture of a "post-modern" intellectual ?

The almost flawless execution of this archetypal ancient Greek drama in the atmospheric yet banal and menacing bureaucratic pettiness of Bay area California in the nineties, is an object lesson in how modern cinema can be truly great. If only more contemporary filmmakers could so deftly tap into the deeply nourishing wellspring of our civilizational heritage in literature and art, we might see many more such masterpieces. Sadly these are quite rare. As it is, the shallow cinematic emotional tricks of the thriller and horror movie genres of Hollywood dominate the style and direction or far too many modern fictional screen dramas. They leave us unsatisfied; non-replete. Good art well realised does not do leave us in such a state. And this movie was genuinely cathartic in its treatment of a modern suburban tragedy. Shakespeare would have envied the director the use of this magnificent medium to render such grand themes and he would not have been disappointed in its execution.

I can not recommend this movie highly enough to lovers of art, literature and cinema. It's entered the Threalm Realm's self coveted top 20 movies of all time. It is better than "Slumdog", and almost as good as "Crash". But why is it that so many of these modern cinematic masterpieces have such awful titles?

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