The House of Sand Andrucha Waddington

Stephen King once described Kubrick’s The Shining as "a big, beautiful automobile with no engine in it.” That’s the way I feel about this Brazilian movie, which is made to the highest standards of craft but somehow fails to compel. It’s the early 20th century and Fernanda Torres is the unlucky wife of crazy husband Ruy Guerra. With Torres’s mother Fernanda Montenegro in tow, the hubby drags the family out to a remote desert location and endeavours to build a house in the sand. He dies comically, which spares his wife the pain of her marriage but also strands her out on the coast with no means of getting back to civilisation. Torres is sensational as the beleaguered protagonist but the movie that surrounds her is somehow too pretty for its own good. Director Andrucha Waddington makes the location so shabby chic perfect that he sucks all of the angst out of the proceedings. Ricardo Della Rosa’s cinematography is immaculate but that’s not such a good thing — the film doesn’t make the location unpalatable, instead inviting us to crawl into the aestheticised dunes and have a nap. The melodrama involving travelling scientists is strangely subdued, as is most of the rest of the intrigue; it might be nice if you’re looking for frame blow-ups to hang on your wall but it isn’t the stuff of compelling cinema. There are people who eat this stuff up, and more power to them, but I was strangely unmoved at the end, as if I hadn’t seen a movie at all. The only extra is a lengthy but dull "making of” documentary. (Sony)