In Praise of Donna Deitch’s “Desert Hearts”


I watched a beautiful Criterion Collection film called Desert Hearts starring the stunning Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau. Directed by Donna Deitch, this gem from 1985 takes place in 1950s Reno, Nevada, and follows English Literature professor Vivien Bell as she travels from her home in New York City to seek a divorce lawyer in the desert… apparently one of the few lawyers in the U.S. who can grant a divorce to a woman. When she arrives at a ranch owned by a quirky older woman, she discovers that everyone knows who she is and why she is there. She also captures the eye and heart of a free-spirited lesbian 10 years her junior.

It is a film fraught with contraversy on multiple levels: in the 1950s, divorce and homosexuality were indeed very taboo, but even for the filming, which took place in 1985, the theme had to be kept under wraps so that the team could make this movie happen. If owners of the old casino featured in the film caught wind that it was a film about sapphic love, they may not have been allowed to film there… or anywhere else for that matter.

In our more open-minded modern times, we quickly forget just how revolutionary films like this were when they were first produced and released; it was a bonafide trailblazer for queer cinema. No one bats an eyelash these days at films like this, but 30 years ago… it was an entirely different story. Films like this caused waves.

And don’t even get me started on the poignant and emotionally-charged love-making scenes. Let’s just say that I had to open a window because they were that steamy.

Name me one film made in the last 10 years that is remotely contraversial… to the point where making it may not have even been possible.

I dare you. And if you can, name the film in the comments. Please and thank you.

This film was so amazing that I kept pausing it every 2 minutes to jot down a brilliant one-liner or piece of dialogue.

Here are some of my favourites:

“I’m not stayin’, so don’t squeeze.”

“You want a tip? Change your seat.”

“I couldn’t care less about stupid opinions.”

“‘Why him and nobody else?’ ‘Because he reached in and put a string of lights around my heart.'”

“She just reached in and put a string of lights around my heart.'”

“‘What are you hiding from?’ ‘Anything I can’t handle.'”

“‘What do you think you’re doing?’ ‘Waiting for you.'”

“‘I wouldn’t know what to do.’You can start by putting the Do Not Disturb sign on the door.'”

“I don’t usually feel this way at 11 o’clock in the morning. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this way before. ”

“I don’t act that way to change the world. I act that way so that goddamned world won’t change me.”

“‘I want to say goodbye alone.’ ‘We’ve been saying goodbye from the beginning. ‘”

“‘What is it you want?’ ‘Another 40 minutes with you.'”

Photo credit: The Internet


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