Still Swooning After All These Years: Desert Hearts, Back in Theaters

On Film / Short Takes — Jul 21, 2017

With her 1986 feature debut, Donna Deitch helped pave a new path for mainstream queer filmmaking. A romance that celebrates the joys of intimacy and eschews the conventional gloominess of many of its lesbian-cinema forebears, Desert Hearts tells the story of a buttoned-up professor who travels out west to file for divorce and the young artist with whom she unexpectedly falls in love. Earlier this week, our restoration of this trailblazing film opened at New York’s IFC Center for a weeklong theatrical run. Take a look at what the critics have been saying:

  • “In Desert Hearts, Deitch takes lesbian cinema back to its future,” raves Armond White in Out.
  • For the Village Voice, Melissa Anderson writes that the film “became a sapphic touchstone precisely by not treating lesbian love as a topic for tourism” and that the experience of two women falling in love is “never pathologized or diminished . . . A hotel-room seduction scene emanates as much erotic heat as the one in Carol, and the open-ended conclusion immediately calls to mind the great come-on uttered by sex-drunk Rita to Betty in Mulholland Drive: Go with me somewhere.”
  • “It’s about the emotional journey that accompanies a sexual journey,” Deitch says of the film’s central love scene, in a new interview with Gay City News.
  • Watch the trailer:

  • In Curve, Merryn Johns praises Deitch’s uncompromising spirit and the way she proved “that lesbian love stories have a place on the big screen as entertainment and art.”
  • “At that time, in the mid-eighties, there were a lot of actors who didn’t want anything to do with this movie,” Deitch says in an interview with Tribeca. “Actually, first they told the casting directors and their agents that they were interested in the movie. And then the agents told them not to be in it because it was so controversial. And the controversy extended beyond just the two characters who would become lovers. It was an all-around controversial movie that a lot of people just didn’t want to be in.”
  • Shannon Carlin, for Bustle, notes how little the film has dated: “it's amazing how modern it feels, as if this same exact film could have been made today and still feel innovative.”
  • At Slant, Clayton Dillard writes that Desert Hearts “reads between the lines of desire and self-assessment to locate the liminal place where the notion of personal identity begins and ends.”