on January 21, 2004
Before Ellen, kd lang, and Chastity Bono came out, there was this Lesbian genre classic, and classily done, I might add.
The storyline was unique to movies at the time it was filmed, but the story is not. Anyone who has been in love with a supposed "straight" person, knows how real this movie can seem. The flirtation, the backing away, the come-hither looks, and finally the conquest all will bring back good (and painful) memories. In my opinion, the lesbian love scene between the two female leads is still the best yet on film - it sizzles without being too graphic.
I'm giving it only 4 stars because the acting is a little stilted at times (mostly from the star Patricia Charbonneau and her former on-screen love interest Dean Butler). If you can overlook that, and see the movie for what it was (lesbian/gay history) and what it is today (a great love story), you will enjoy it. The clothes, music, sets, (and the hair-dos!) are great and correct for the period.
Sit back, enjoy, and make sure your girlfriend is watching with you!
on September 26, 2003
The trouble is, this film is too close to Jane Rule's gorgeous novel to separate itself, yet it cannot hope to convey the magic and subtleties painted by Jane Rule whose characters are so well-defined; whose sense of timing and space is impeccable and who develops the tensions (slight and not-so-slight) between these women by way of their perceptions (of each other and their own situations). It is one of the tenderest love stories I have read and yet it is neither unduly emotional nor sentimental.
The scene by the lake (Chapter 5), for instance, where Evelyn (Vivian in the film) utters that she lives in a desert of the heart, can hardly have the same impact on film where we depend on a visual interpretation of events rather than a disclosure of her thoughts. It is where Evelyn realises she's losing a battle; her morality is about to be jolted. She clings to familiar things, the drive through the storm and so on, in the hope that the problem will go away while knowing that it won't. At the same time Ann (Cay in the film) has an instinct for knowing when not to press herself further while never quite withdrawing. The film does not capture these subtleties.
For all that, it is a beautiful, sensitive film in its own right, spoiled by an ending that might have been better if it followed the book. In almost the last line, far from Vivian (Evelyn) departing forever, she opts to stay "for an indefinite period of time". Until that moment one is on the edge of one's seat and somehow the film's almost certain "goodbye" comes as a cop-out; as if the women might have been infatuated; Vivian frightened of discovering this new aspect of her sexuality but surrendering to a daring experiment rather than being in love as the book conveys and realising at the last instant that goodbye isn't possible at that moment.
The sex scene is inconsequential by the way but tastefully done for those who like such cliches.
on June 26, 2003
This lovely, bittersweet movie knocked my socks off when I saw it back in the day, and the DVD offered me another opportunity to relive the romance. It's not the most well-made movie -- the fact that it got made at all, considering the costs to the independent film maker, is a miracle. But it is peopled with believable, sympathetic characters and it is, for the most part, beautifully acted. The soundtrack is fabulous, and the CD is long overdue. The cinematography artfully features the haunting southwestern landscape, contrasting it with the period-perfect seediness of 1950's Reno.
Desert Hearts is a lesbian love story, but also a story about the importance of many types of relationships between women: mother and daughter, friend and confidant. I've seen almost all the lesbian flicks that have been produced over the years, and very few of them have this one's staying power. It offers a deeply romantic and heartfelt view of lesbian love in the old-fashioned Hollywood mold, something we rarely see in the movies. The impeccable use of music is heard in the final scene, as Ella Fitzgerald croons "I Wished On The Moon." I can't imagine any person who has every loved or longed for love, whether they're gay, straight or in between, not being moved by the promise, longing and mystery expressed in that last scene.
Desert Hearts has wit, humor, pathos, a fascinating and unusual milieu, compelling leading ladies and delicious secondary roles, great music and scenery, and oh yes, some exceptionally erotic and realistic sex between two beautiful women.
What's not to like?
on May 22, 2003
"Desert Hearts," directed by Donna Deitch, opens in Reno, Nevada in 1959. The film, which is based on a novel by Jane Rule, tells the story of Vivian (played by Helen Shaver), a prim-and-proper college professor who has come to Nevada to get a divorce. There she meets Cay (Patricia Charbonneau), a lusty, free-spirited casino worker. The relationship between these two beautiful women is the focus of the film.
"Desert Hearts" is a wonderful film. It's very erotic, tender, and moving. The women's story is complemented by excellent production values and effective use of period music. The performances are superb all around. The leads are backed by a great supporting cast; Audra Lindley is particularly good in a zesty, touching performance as Cay's stepmother. But it's the powerful chemistry between Shaver and Charbonneau which ultimately drives the film. Every scene between them is one to be savored.
The DVD version of the film includes a fascinating feature-length commentary track by director Deitch. She discusses the original novel, her own relationship with novelist Rule, the casting process, the music of the film, key scenes, and much more. Particularly fascinating is the window she offers into the financial realities of independent filmmaking.
"Desert Hearts" is about romantic love between two women. It's also about a mother-daughter relationship and about friendship between women. The beautiful scenes of the land and horses as well as the casino scenes give added appeal to the story of these interconnected relationships. I highly recommend this enjoyable and touching film.
on July 19, 2001
This could have been very pedestrian because it tells the old story of the repressed lesbian freed by the wild spirit of another woman but this movie goes beyond that. It is about two real people which is what all books and movies should strive for. I have read the book and recommend it because it delves into more detail than the movie does and the movie is more an adaptation than a complete re-telling of the book. It is interesting to see what women had to go through to obtain a "quickie" divorce in 1959, to be exact. Helen Shaver is both strong and vulnerable as Vivien and Patricia Charbanneau a maverick who slowly reveals her vulnerability to the Helen Shaver character. Each gives the other the strength to be more herslf. THe DVD is of excellent quality and one of the extra fetures is a commentary by the director as the movie rolls on. I find that in most DVD's and find it distracting. I think it would be much better to let the director speak in person and show various scenes as she talks about them rather than reshowing the entire movie. I really hope they change that. THe author of the book "Desert Hearts" is Jane RUle and I really recommend buying it. If not for the subject matter, it would probably have been a mainstream hit.
on July 1, 2001
Lesbian films have a bad habit of making sex into some sort of miracle cure that suddenly makes maintaining a professional life, fixing your personal problems and finding out who the other person really is...totally unimportant. If the two lovers get to have sex everything is wonderful. I am a firm believer that film can not only reinforce culture but create it. Its unfortunate that this film from the 80's didn't set the standard for what was to follow it.
Deitch took the time to create a real place in the 50's complete with real characters. The professor played by Shaver is the perfect example of a well educated 50's woman. Readers who fault this character for not suddenly turning into a raving moonstruck lesbian after falling for Charbonneau (like the psychologist in Claire of the Moon perhaps??) are seeing her through modern eyes. In the 50's a woman who had attained the rank of Professor was very rare and that persona had to be lived to the max, in love or not. You just didn't run off and work for IBM if you got canned for impropriety! And isn't it better that Shaver's character wanted to further Charbonneau's education and chances in life rather than abandoning her decorum and finding a gay friendly job at the Casino?
This film even dared to give more than a surface treatment to the deeper reasons behind Charbonneau's mother's distaste for her relationship with Shaver. We saw her lonliness and alcoholism. Most films show characters expressing simple bigotry and leave it at that. But people usually aren't that simple.
These characters were explored rather than just presented on a mattress. This is film making....not just a lead up to sex. Its a shame Deitch didn't do more films!
on April 2, 2001
Patricia Charbonneau and Audra Lindley give fantastic, fully dimensional performances in this predictable but enjoyable film. In fact, in several scenes, they steal the show. However, Helen Shaver's performance as Vivian Bell, the prim professor in search of a quickie divorce, set me on edge. Shaver walks around like she is perpetually constipated or has a stick shoved up her Summa Cum Laude derriere. Even when Vivian finally sexually succumbs to the luscious, free-spirited Cay (Charbonneau), Shaver's professor still is edgy and uptight. Can this woman ever relax? Perhaps Shaver was not that comfortable in this role, the end result being a two-dimensional, emotionally wooden character. I would think that there'd be a substantial change in Vivian after she discovers her true sexuality and her love for Cay, but Shaver never breaks free of her stiff portrayal. If Shaver had shown more depth and warmth with her character, this would have been an excellent film. The soundtrack is great and the costuming and sets superb for depicting life in the late 1950's.
on January 4, 2001
I have to start out by saying that there was more about the movie that I liked than I disliked. It's not incredibly long, only being about an hour and a half long, but sometimes it drags too much during that time so that it seems like more time is passing than really does. That's the biggest weakness in the whole story line, how long it takes for things to happen.
The love scene between the two women in this film, when it finally happens, is strong, and plays out as being very real. It's some of the earlier scenes in the movie, and some of the rather stilted conversations they and other characters have, that bogs the movie down. The shy glances exchanged between the two women early on, and even their first tentative kiss were well done, if only the dialogue had been more sharply written, or some of the needless prattling weeded out, the movie would have come across more true.
I have to compliment the two lead actresses, Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau, for being so effective in the intimate moments their characters experienced. They did a good job of showing the love these two women shared without making it seem like a contrived love scene like in so many other movies. They seemed to enjoy one another, as any couple does when they care about each other and are trying to please their mate.
So, all things considered, I recommend seeing this movie, if you don't want to buy it, then at least try to find it to rent. Except for a few long passages which bog down, the rest of the movie is enjoyable, and while not everything is wrapped up with a big bow at the end like in some movies, it is still satisfying, and remains true to the spirit of the rest of the film.
on October 10, 2000
I loved this movie! It is my all-time, favorite lesbian love story. More recent films have touted themselves as having eclipsed this story, but frankly, I have not yet seen a lesbian film that is better than this one. Yeah, this film has some hokey parts. I do not like the way that director, Donna Deitch suddenly fades to black as a transitioning technique. I do, however, like the 1950's vocal music in the background. The music mirrors the mood of the film and of the characters. I also liked the authenticity of the film in terms its 1950's setting. I liked the old cars and the old clothes and the old slot machines. Even the leather couch and the cowboy-patterned dishes hasten back to the 1950's. I especially liked the performance of Helen Shaver as Vivian Bell, the uptight eastern professor who comes to Reno for a quickie divorce. I had seen her in movies before but it took this movie for me to recognize the depth of her talent. Audra Lindley (AKA, TV's Mrs. Roper from Three's Company) is also excellent. I never really knew where the Audra Lindley character was coming from, even though I have probably seen the film at least ten times. I think that not understanding the character's full motivation is part of the intrigue of her performance; you're never really sure where her true affections lie. The interplay between the two main characters is awesome. It is wonderful to see the attraction grow and to see the younger character's boldness and both character's vulnerability. I give credit to the writer, director and actresses for the authenticity with which they recreated the awkward and often tentative moments of new love. If you never buy or see another lesbian film, buy and see this one.
on October 9, 2000
This is one of the first films i ever saw about women's love.It showed some special love relationship i never saw before,some tenderness and softness you can't ever reach with man,not only sexually wise.The film gives a wonderfull feeling of the specialty in women's ability to understand each other and feel things under the surface.I beleive that at certain situations it can happen to every woman, straight or not. the film is wonderfully done,passing the Reno's conservative atmosphere on one hand and the beautiful desert atmosphere on the other. The acting of Shaver and Charbonneau is very persuasive and seems like they act themselves. when one meets true love,i beleive there are no borders of any kind, sexually or others. The one real sex scene is beautifully done, with a lot of passion and lust on one hand and a lot of modesty on the other.Sex scene does'nt have to be vulgar and blunt.you can get the feeling, even more when it's done so nice and gentle. i could watch this film over and over again and every time see something else in it, specially because of it's non violent atmosphere and the love and tenderness it projects. And,yes things like that can happen and life can change all of a sudden.