Based on Jane Rule’s novel Desert of the Heart (1964), Donna Deitch’s narrative feature debut centers on a burgeoning lesbian romance between libertine casino worker Cay Rivvers (Patricia Charbonneau) and repressed university professor Vivian Bell (Helen Shaver) in Reno, Nevada in the late 1950s, a climate wherein being queer was…complicated. Landmark in its positive portrayal of sapphic romance and celebrated for its passionate, sensual bedroom scenes that nearly fog the camera’s lens, Deitch’s vision for Cay and Vivian’s nuanced onscreen relationship explores the tension inherent in a sheltered woman accepting her newfound sexual self.
Production: Desert Hearts Productions. Distribution: Criterion. Producer: Donna Deitch. Based on the novel by Jane Rule. Screenwriter: Natalie Cooper. Cinematographer: Robert Elswit. Production Design: Jeannine Oppewall. Editor: Robert Estrin. With Helen Shaver, Patricia Charbonneau, Audra Lindley, Andra Akers, Gwen Welles.
Desert Hearts has been digitally restored by the Criterion Collection/Janus Films and UCLA Film & Television Archive in conjunction with Outfest UCLA Legacy Project and Sundance Institute.