Monday, February 23, 2009

An oldie but a goodie: Desert Hearts


I finally watched the lesbian classic movie Desert Hearts. Even though I have seen more than my fair share of lesbian films, there’s quite a few older ones I never got around to watching. When I finally do, they are usually quite disappointing for two reasons. They are either very dated or just utterly depressing. It was a really pleasant surprise to find out that Desert Hearts is neither.

Desert Hearts is the 1985 romantic drama based on the book Desert of the heart by Jane Rule (I didn’t know this and was quite surprised, because I read some of Rule’s stuff and I can’t say I was very impressed) and directed by Donna Deitch.

It tells the story of Vivian (played by Helen Shaver), a college professor who goes to stay in Reno for six weeks in order to be able to get a divorce from her husband. While she is there she meets Cay (played by Patricia Charbonneau), a free spirited artist who works at a casino.

From the first moment they meet the women are intrigued by one another. Soon they start spending more and more time together, much to the dismay of the people around them, especially Frances, the woman Vivian is staying with who also happens to be Cay’s surrogate mother.

It becomes pretty obvious that the two women are very into each other, however, as with any romantic movie, it takes a while for them to not only admit to it, but to act on it as well. Cay has a history with women, but for Vivian it is all pretty new.

They face the usual problems like questioning whether they really want to be with each other, accepting one’s sexual orientation and dealing with how the outside world reacts to them. The fact that all this takes place in 1959 doesn’t make matters any easier.
Despite all this, or perhaps because of this, the story this movie tells is timeless. Regardless of the time or the circumstances, when you find someone that “reaches in a puts a string of lights around your heart” that is really all that matters.

There were a few scenes in this movie that made me raise my eyebrows. One of those is when Cay decides to take a bubble bath with one of her straight friends and talk all about how she’s into Vivian. Who takes baths with their friends?

Other really awesome scenes in this film, like Vivian and Cay’s first kiss in a rainstorm or the final scene of the movie, more than make up for the few weird ones. Did I mention this movie also includes a really really hot sex scene?

Desert Hearts is a great lesbian love story, especially for its time. No one went crazy or ended up dead, which in this genre is always a nice bonus. Like I mentioned at the start, I have seen many lesbian films over the years and a lot of them are pretty bad.

Not Desert Hearts. I am glad to say it was more than worth watching and if you haven’t seen it yet, I would suggest you put it on your Netflix list.

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