From That Obscure Object of Desire to Mulholland Dr. and Palindromes, the device of having actresses exchange roles midfilm has often been used to create disorientation. The strange thing about House of Sand is that the doubling builds an emotional arc: Over a story that spans 1910 to 1969, real-life mother and daughter Fernanda Montenegro and Fernanda Torres play three generations of a family stranded in a desert region of northeastern Brazil.
The notion seems to be that parents and children are exactly alike, or that the isolation of the setting—which shelters the duo, along with the man who helps them survive (Jorge, and later Luiz Melodia), from world events—has condemned the women to repeating a purgatorial cycle. Enrique Daz plays a military officer who surfaces after World War I, only to return, played by Stnio Garcia, during World War II. Displaying an eye for endless white-on-white terrain, Andrucha Waddington shoots with gorgeous, toniclike monotony. A heated primal fuck and a few bars of Chopin seem epiphanic in this context. It’s a clever strategy disguising the fact that House of Sand sentimentalizes ignorance, and that its ultimate meaning is as elusive as the desert sands. It’s a perpetual bleach job for the art-house mind. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — Ben Kenigsberg