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DESERT HEARTS (1985)

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Discussion after

Donna Deitch’s swooning and sensual first narrative feature was groundbreaking upon its release by the Samuel Goldwyn Company. This love story about two women was made entirely independently and on a shoestring budget raised by Deitch—an out gay, documentary and experimental filmmaker. Set in 1959 and adapted from a beloved novel by Jane Rule, it follows a strait-laced East Coast professor, Vivian Bell (Helen Shaver), as she arrives in Reno to file for divorce but winds up catching the eye of someone new: the free-spirited young Cay (Patricia Charbonneau). Their encounter sets off a slow seduction that unfolds against a breathtaking desert landscape and evolves into one of cinema’s pioneering tales of love. With undeniable chemistry between its two leads, an evocative jukebox soundtrack, brilliant production design by Jeannine Oppewall and vivid cinematography by Robert Elswit, this film beautifully exudes a sense of tender yearning and emotional candor. Shaver received a special reward when Greta Garbo phoned to praise her performance. Charbonneau received the prestigious Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Actress. Deitch was soon after hired by Oprah Winfrey to direct the 1988 ABC miniseries, “The Women of Brewster Place”. (d. Donna Deitch, 91m, DCP)

Digital restoration made possible by The Criterion Collection/Janus Films and UCLA Film & Television Archive in conjunction with Outfest UCLA Legacy Project and Sundance Institute.

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