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Bravo Shohreh!
Touching performance adds much to "House of Sand and Fog"

By Karim Pakravan
February 1, 2004
iranian.com

Once again, an outstanding Iranian woman has made Iran and Iranians everywhere proud. The Oscar nomination of Shohreh Aghdashloo for Best Supporting Actress in the movie House of Sand and Fog represents no less of a milestone for Iranian society in general and women in particular than the Peace Nobel Prize give to Shirin Ebadi last year. The Nobel Prize was a spectacular recognition of the struggle of Iranian women for human rights. The Oscar nomination is an equally spectacular recognition of the role of the Iranian women in the struggle for artistic freedom.

Aghdashloo's roots lie in the theater. I had seen her in several Persian plays, and I had always been struck by her acting skills. She always reminded me in some ways of Lauren Bacall, with her smoky voice and her sophisticated beauty, as well as her tough and somewhat ironic personality.

In House of Sand and Fog, Aghdashloo plays the role of Nadie, the wife of Colonel Behrani, played by Ben Kinglsey. She is the passive counterpoint to his take-charge personality, and in some ways, the moral compass of the film. Her role is probably the most complex of the movie, and she plays the whole range of emotions very effectively. She remembers her garden in Isfahan and rues for her past life, a life of grandeur and dignity that she has tried to recreate in America.

The colonel is the patriarchal figure, the uncontested lord of the house. At the same time, he protects his family from the vagaries of exile, working secretly as a common laborer and running down their savings. His authority continues to be unquestioned when he orders her to pack their things for the move to the new house, just as it was when he ordered trees cut at their Caspian villa.

Nadie might be traditional Iranian wife, but she is also Behrani's judge, giving a human and moral dimension to the story. Clearly, the new house has restored her dignity, and she craves approval of her peers--witness the scene where she entertains her daughter, her husband and the in-laws. And she rewards Behrani for having given her some of her old life back with a moment of passion. Yet, she responds with great compassion to the tragedy that has befallen Kathy Niccolo, and her unease of having taken away Kathy's property never goes away, even if it the moral scruples are tinged with the fear of retribution. At the end of the movie, having lost her son, she wordlessly submits once more to her husband's will and drinks the poisoned tea.

I have found it interesting to note the different reaction of Iranians and Americans to the movie. Not surprisingly, many Iranians are likely see it through the narrow prism of their own experience, focusing like many exiles on the themes of dignity and loss, unable to transcend their past. So, they could concentrate on the Behranis', and generally white out the non-Iranian characters. Americans (and other non-Iranians), on the other hand, have the luxury of being able to take their distance and see the movie for what it fundamentally is, a modern version of a Greek tragedy where the characters are led to their doom by forces they cannot control.

This is a great movie, with great actors, and Aghdashloo's touching performance, has added so much to the movie. So, bravo Shohreh, I hope that on February 29th, that envelope will have your name written in it in gold letters!

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