Review: ‘Desert Winds’

"Desert Winds," Michael Nickles' feature directorial debut, is an enigmatic psychodrama about two lonely individuals who establish a bond through mystical communication. Though decently acted, commercial prospects appear slight for this moody, rather plotless piece, which might hold some interest for regional film festivals.

“Desert Winds,” Michael Nickles’ feature directorial debut, is an enigmatic psychodrama about two lonely individuals who establish a bond through mystical communication. Though decently acted, commercial prospects appear slight for this moody, rather plotless piece, which might hold some interest for regional film festivals.

Prologue introduces Jackie (Jessica Hamilton), a 13-year-old girl who lives in a New Mexico desert town. One day she pauses atop a high plateau and begins to call into the wind, hoping for an echo. Surprisingly, she gets a mysterious response from Eugene (Nickles), a youngster living miles away in Arizona. The two begin to communicate through atunnel of wind across the vast desert. But the initial contact is fleeting, as Eugene is on his way to start a new life in Philadelphia.

Seven years later, the disenchanted man returns to his small town, and a new, more meaningful rapport evolves with Jackie (Heather Graham), who’s now a young woman.

Premise is promising, but screenwriter Nickles doesn’t develop a narrative that will involve viewers in the strange relationship of his two misfits. Most of the film consists of lengthy monologues by the duo, each sitting in front of a bonfire, struggling to overcome their demons.

Some flashbacks from Eugene’s past, which show him as an alienated individual seeking impersonal sex in sleazy bars, enliven the dreary proceedings, but pic overall lacks drama.

Nickles’ concerns are existential. He aims to say something about the need to communicate, the importance of hope and faith in oneself — and the unpredictability of fateful encounters. But these issues are covered in rather dull speeches by the characters.

Director has problems finding the right rhythm for his movie, but he shows some talent for creating mood and atmosphere. As the central duo, Nickles and Graham are satisfying, but they are handicapped by the text’s monotony and restrictive physical setting.

Denis Maloney’s impressive long shots of Southwest vistas and James McVay’s evocative score help considerably in establishing the tale’s ambience.

Desert Winds

Production

A Desert Winds production. Produced by Scott Stephens. Executive producer, Kevin Morris. Supervising producer, Christine Sacani. Directed, written by Michael Nickles.

Crew

Camera (color), Denis Maloney; editor, Ellen Goldwasser; music, James McVay; additional music by the Cowboy Junkies, the BoDeans; sound, Al Samuels. Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival, Jan. 13, 1995. Running time: 95 min.

With

Jackie - Heather Graham Eugene - Michael Nickles Young Jackie - Jessica Hamilton Jackie's mother - Grace Zabriskie Eugene's father - Jack Kehler
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