Ellie Moore (Diane Gaidry) is sitting in a commercial airliner looking like a poster girl for battered women when suddenly there is a disturbance at the plane's entrance as her ex-boyfriend tries to board. He is yelling like a maniac, something that would never be permitted in today's terrorism-jumpy world. Fortunately, this turns out to be the last false note in this modest but compelling tale of a victimized woman looking for a life free of pain and abuse.

At first, Los Angeles--where Ellie appears to be completely at sea--shows her its worst side, as she has her money stolen by a gang, and then is picked up by a man who offers her several hundred dollars and a warm shower for quick sex. Something of a pothead, she manages to escape her john--and it is the first indication we have that she may be capable of taking care of herself.

Then her fortunes change, as she is conscripted by tough-talking senior Betsy Wright (Pamela Gordon), a professional dogwalker who is suffering from a serious illness and is compelled, despite her feisty, independent nature, to seek help from the younger, physically stronger Ellie.

The bulk of The Dogwalker follows their cantankerous but loving relationship. These buddies hardly fall into each other's arms. Betsy is as caustic as a sandblaster, but offers the wisdom of a street philosopher and the dignity of a yoga saint. Ellie is a passive victim waiting for the next punch with bowed head and a joint in her hand. Her growth comes when she learns a profession, dogwalking, and the strange but quirky pleasures it offers. This requires an introduction to the L.A. dogwalking scene, a bizarre world in itself, and Ellie's efforts to find a place for herself among its denizens.

Writer-director-producer Jacques Thelemaque, working with a tiny budget (under $2 million) makes Ellie's progress worth watching. Perhaps inspired by the fact that Diane Gaidry is his real-life wife, he captures her struggle with unflinching compassion. The late Pamela Gordon also gives a remarkable performance. She and Gaidry succeed where many other partners in acting have failed, making The Dogwalker a bracing foray into a no-frills Los Angeles. Filming on MiniDV on a Sony VX1000, d.p. Marco Fargnoli and Thelemaque have found a unique way to present Lotusland's quieter charms.