At The Movies
ood • spirits •
`House Of Sand And Fog'
In his feature-film debut, director Vadim Perelman
explores the American Dream gone horribly awry.
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he day before he discovered
the-novel House of Sand
and Fog in 2001, Vadim
Perelman asked his chauf-
feur to drive him to a slum in subur-
ban Rome. Perelman, a successful
commercial director, was in Italy on
an AT&T shoot. But he wanted to
return to the tenement that had been
his home when he arrived from Kiev
with his mother in 1977.
The Jewish emigre hoped to revisit
the decrepit flat where they had lived
without glass in the windows and with
dead animals in the-street. He wanted
to see the room in which he had lain
deathly ill, treated by a veterinarian
because a doctor was too expensive. He
wanted to walk the streets where he
had pumped gas for change, guarding
his turf against vicious gang members.
"I almost died there, many times,"
So when his chauffeur refused to
drive him deep into the slum that day
in 2001, Perelman, now 40, walked
the 10 blocks alone to his old build-
ing. He found his former landlady and
silently sat in her apartment, under a
naked light bulb, as she served him a
glass of rancid wine.
As he got up to leave, he placed
$5,000 on the rickety table. "I felt like
I was giving the money to her, but I
was also giving it to myself, back
then," he said with emotion.
"I was seeing this 14-year-old boy
lying there with his throat closed off,
having the vet cut into it just to keep
him alive. And I walked out of that
place like I was walking on air. I felt like
I had closed one of the circles of my life
— and there was a gift at the end."
The "gift" was Andre Dubus III's best-
seller House of Sand and Fog, which
Perelman bought at the Rome airport,
and which revolves around another set of
desperate people and a rundown home.
The story tells of recovering drug
addict Kathy Nicolo, who is evicted
from her Northern California bunga-
low as the result of a bureaucratic error.
The bungalow is then bought at auc-
tion for a pittance by Iranian immigrant
Col. Massoud Behrani, a former aristo-
crat reduced to working menial jobs to
support his wife, Nadi, and their son.
For Behrani, the house represents a last
shot at the American Dream.
"I read the novel on the plane and I
wept," Perelman said. "I immediately
knew I had to turn it into a movie."
Like the book, the film, which stars
Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley,
"is about loneliness and being cast
out," he added. "[It's] about being an
immigrant in a new country and, with
regard to Kathy, about feeling like an
immigrant in your own country."
Perelman brought his Russian aes-
thetic to the melodrama: "It's a great,
operatic tragedy," he said.
As the intense director told his life
story over steak salad at a cafe near his
Hancock Park, Calif., home, it sounded
like the stuff of melodrama. Until he
was 14, he lived in Ukraine, with eight
relatives in a one-room Kiev apartment,
sharing a bathroom with 60, neighbors.
On New Year's Eve when he was 7,
his paternal grandfather, "a strong bull
of a man, poured himself this giant
glass of vodka, toasted us, drank it
down, and fell over dead," he recalled.
Soon thereafter, Perelman's maternal
grandfather, who had survived four
heart attacks, summoned him and
said, "I'm going to tell you a secret.
I'm going to die today." (He did.)
The following year, Perelman's
grandmother was fatally hit by a street-
car, and his father died in a car crash.
Seeking a new life, Vadim and his
Vadim Perelman has been honored by the
National Board of Review with its Best
Directorial Debut Award; he also has
been nominated for Best First Picture by
the Independent Spirit Awards.