Great Film overall
It's not great by any means, but it's a pretty good movie that didn't leave me filled with regret for investing time in it.
When a movie has you begging for it to end not even half way through it's pure crap. We've all seen this movie and this characters millions of times, nothing new in it. Don't waste your time.
Like the great film, it's made with a great deal of visible affection both in front of and behind the camera.
Desert Hearts (1985) was written and directed by Donna Deitch. The movie is set in Reno, Nevada in the late 1950's. At that time, a route to a quick divorce was for women to travel to Reno, establish "residence" for six weeks, and then get a rubber-stamp (but legal) divorce.Helen Shaver plays the sophisticated Vivian Bell, a professor at Colombia University, who has traveled to Reno for her divorce. Clearly, she is out of place in Reno. Patricia Charbonneau portrays Cay Rivvers, who is very much at home in Reno. She works at a casino, changing dollar bills for silver dollars so that people can play the slot machines.The basic plot of the movie is whether Vivian and Cay will have a lesbian love affair. In 2018, it's hard to remember that, even in 1985, this was a daring topic. In fact, both leads had to sign contracts agreeing to appear nude from the waist up. Both actors were told that it would be career suicide if they took these roles.This movie is worth seeing because it may have been the first mainstream movie that dealt openly with lesbian love and lesbian sexual attraction. Don't see it because of the sex scene that "nearly fogs the camera's lens." Maybe in 1985 the lens got fogged, but not now.See it for the good acting from both leads, and see it because it reminds us of how far we've progressed as a society since 1985. We saw this film at the wonderful Dryden Theatre at Rochester's George Eastman Museum. The film has been digitally restored. The restoration was funded by a consortium of groups. Unfortunately, the restoration had to be done digitally, because of the immense cost of restoring 35mm films to 35mm. However, that's OK, because the digital reconstruction looks great. The movie will work well enough on the small screen. It's worth seeking out and seeing.
It's 1959 Reno, Nevada. Vivian Bell (Helen Shaver) is an English Lit professor at Columbia in NYC. She comes to stay at a ranch owned by Frances Parker to establish residency in Nevada for a quickie divorce. She's been married to another professor for 12 years in a professional marriage. She's willing to give him everything. Cay Rivvers (Patricia Charbonneau) is a wild child who lives at the ranch as Frances' surrogate daughter. She's relatively open as a lesbian considering the times but she still gets hit on by men. She finds herself falling for the newly arrived older woman.It's not necessarily the most dramatic or the most well made lesbian movie. The lack of drama is a triumph in itself. This time, lesbianism doesn't end in tragic deaths or finding a man or insanity. It also has an amazing lesbian love scene and not just for its eroticism. These characters are compelling and shockingly normal played by two terrific actresses. Their relationship doesn't destroy them but actually leaves them fulfilled.
This American indie curio from 1985 is a bracing Lesbian romance, a trailblazer of the controversial genre and an accomplished feature-length doesn't make concessions with sensationalism of the subject matter and dramatise of the homosexual sub-culture. Set in 1959, Vivian Bell (Shaver), a 35-year-old uptight literature professor from NYC arrives to Reno, Nevada to obtain a quick divorce. She stays in a ranch house hosted by Frances Parker (Lindley) and meets Cay Rivvers (Charbonneau), the daughter of Glenn, Frances' significant other who died years ago, so biologically Cay and Frances are not related, but Frances is like a surrogate mother to her and deems her as the last remnant of Glenn. Cay is a free-spirited sculptor, a decade younger than Vivian and works in the local casino, she is pretty frank about her sexuality and defies all the unkindness for her lifestyle, although it creates discord with Frances. A mutual attraction between Vivian and Cay is germinating secretly, which slowly awakes Vivian's dormant homosexuality, yet she is a woman shackled by orders and social conventions, that's why the new sensation is equally exciting and scary for her, she has to battle against her rational sense to even accept their passionate first kiss after a night alone with Cay al fresco, when she finally opens up herself unconditionally, their passion is inextinguishable. Shaver instils a considerably nuanced showcase of Vivian's dilemma, while Charbonneau strikes gold in bringing Cay to life for her bravery and honesty, as well as her irresistible vitality, the steamy sex scenes are rendered with even-handedness, neither too coy nor a blatant lesbian pornography to suffice straight men's fantasy, Vivian's frisson of pleasure is vented through a series of creditable niceties, quite an achievement if we take the year of its making into account. One might find it is quite pleasing that a jaundiced eye has never become prominent in the plot, no homophobic straight hillbillies, everyone is pretty cool with regard to Cay's unconventional conducts, and being a gorgeous beauty like her, men can easily one-sidedly mad about her, which could have served as a fertile ground of jealousy and violence, fortunately it is not being tapped into the script, which unerringly homes in on Vivian and Cay's romantic bonding, only Andra Lindley's Frances, is the ostensible exemplar of malice, yet whose growing hostility towards Vivian is more originated from her own selfish possession of Cay than any other objective arguments.So, in a nutshell, DESERT HEARTS deserves a re-discovery 3 decades after its release, it is tender, heartfelt, sincere, in spite of telling a conventional same-sex love story with every predictable twist and turn, this low budget labour-of-love of Donna Deitch even manages to pull off an entirely satisfactory coda which defies to be a stereotyped Hollywood ending and leaves a sweet taste in our imaginations.
I first saw this film in its theatrical release in Toronto. I knew it was a pretty special movie back then. We talked about it with our friends, and then it quietly slipped away, replaced by more recent fare. Years later I found the video tape on a table for $5 and I bought it, remembering that I had liked it ten years earlier. This time around I liked it even more and began to re-appreciate how special some of the performances were.Now, 15 years later, during a purge of video tapes, I've rediscovered DESERT HEARTS. I find I like it even more this time. Frankly, I couldn't care less about gay politics. I acknowledge that North America (the US and Canada, anyway) hasn't been real great in dealing with minority groups (race, religion, sexual orientation) during the past century. But I don't even see this film in terms of sexual politics. It's just a great love story dealing with the painful steps it takes to cross over any barrier. The sexual tension is palpable. Ms. Charbonneau is both gorgeous and a natural actress. The scene in the hotel room where she waits in bed for Helen Shaver is just spectacular. The supporting cast and the settings are also excellent.I like the vintage music (when is the last time you heard Johnny Cash sing "Get Rhythm" on a soundtrack?) My one criticism concerns the abrupt fade-to-black style at the end of each brief scene. For me, it got in the way of the story telling and continuity.Although I've discounted politics in writing this review, I have to admit that DESERT HEARTS was surely a brave film in its time. Maybe in this time, too. Kudos to those involved for taking those risks.