House of Sand begins with enough promise to cause goosebumps: in breathtaking shots of Brazil’s remote Maranhão desert, we watch as Vasco, a madcap Portuguese explorer straight from Herzog, loses his mind, his crew, and his life, leaving his wife Aurea, and her mother, Maria (women in the dunes, indeed) without supplies. The women (real-life mother-and-daughter Fernandas Montenegro and Torres) befriend runaway slave Massu (Seu Jorge), and with the assistance of caravans, they spend six decades living in, and trying to escape, their desert prison. House’s themes involve family survival vs. the cruelly unforgiving Mother Nature, but they’re fleshed out around a plodding, preposterous plot; all but the most patient should be forewarned. Waddington’s casting gimmickry — the venerable actresses switch roles as three generations go by — is a failed experiment, and by the final switcheroo, the otherworldly landscape is the movie’s raison d’etre. Thus, for American viewers, a star is born.