The B&W "Walls of Sand" is a middling indie effort whose disparate themes don't quite reach their dramatic potential. Fests and specialty programmers interested in cross-cultural, women's health and child-custody issues may bite.

The B&W “Walls of Sand” is a middling indie effort whose disparate themes don’t quite reach their dramatic potential. Fests and specialty programmers interested in cross-cultural, women’s health and child-custody issues may bite.

Soraya (co-scenarist Shirin Etessam) is a young Iranian woman sent to the U.S. to escape war threats at home. She’s alienated herself from fellow emigres by cohabiting with an American b.f., but after two years he’s still waffling about marriage, so she moves out.

Sans green card, Soraya is forced to take on a job as au pair to divorced Ellen (Jan Carty Marsh). The arrangement is tense at first — and not just because severe San Franciscan Ellen appears agoraphobic and her preteen son Alex (Benjamin Marsh) withdrawn. Soraya won the job by secretly promising Ellen’s ex, Ted (John Evans), that she’d “report” any household oddities back to him. Too late, after bonding with wife and child, she discovers Ted’s plan to use this info in a new custody battle.

This domestic situation is the film’s most compelling factor. But both Ellen and Soraya are played too reservedly, leaving blank the many gaps in a script that provides limited psychological insight. Soraya’s sense of dislocation between her native “community” and independent, Western identity is also rendered in vague terms, with periodic, brief flashbacks to life in Iran. The favorite uncle she’d traveled abroad to live with, and who died estranged, appears as a matter-of-factly integrated “ghost” only she can see. Recurrent scenes in a New Age “psycho-spiritual” support group uneasily straddle satire and earnestness.

None of these threads is dominant enough to make a strong impact, though director Erica Jordan’s draggy pace never loses interest entirely. Acting is adequate, tech aspects serviceable.

Walls of Sand

Production

A Ginger Prods. presentation. Produced by Erica Jordan, Shirin Etessam. Directed by Erica Jordan. Screenplay, Jordan, Etessam.

Crew

Camera (B&W, 16 mm), Jordan, Tracy Hudson; editing, Jordan, Etessam; music, Cristopher Kazor. Reviewed Oct. 4, 1995, at Roxie Cinema, San Francisco. (In Film Arts Festival, S.F.) Running time: 115 MIN.

With

Soraya Rahimi ... Shirin Etessam Ellen Follette ... Jan Carty Marsh Alex Follette ... Benjamin Marsh Ted Follette ... John Evans Amu ... Ulysses Mitra ... Nadia Soltan-Kashefi Chet ... John Cragen
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