In the 50s it was a rare occurrence for women to seek a divorce. Of the old school, they learned to suffer through, accept their station in life, deal with the bum. Once in a while, though, the adventuresome took that step and cut the strings. Naturally, the easiest place to end a marriage is also the easiest place to start a marriage, Las Vegas/Reno, Nevada.
There are stipulations of course, you must take up residency for a period of time in order to get that bum out of your life.
Intelligent and educated, English Professor Vivian Bell made her way to Reno for just this purpose. What she discovered instead were things that would change her life forever. The mannerisms of the locals, the squinty eyed slaves sitting at slot machines, the slime covered handshake from her attorney, the attitudes and life styles that were completely foreign to her Eastern upbringing. And, oh yeah, she finds love.
Apparently arrangements are made for the visiting soon-to-be-singled to stay at a ranch on the outskirts of town, run by an opinionated and feisty Frances Parker. Permanent residents on the ranch are her niece Cay and her son Walter. Walter has the itch to move on, but how will he ever leave mothers side? Cay, orphaned and curious, works at a casino a change person perhaps or a floor supervisor.
Cays life style, openly gay, grates at the core of her Aunt Frances but comes to a boil when Cay makes advances to Vivian. Frances and Vivian had formed a small friendship, something that is uncommon for Frances who generally keeps herself removed from those around her. In fact, not since her husband, has she let someone really close to her. As she tells Cay, He reached in and put a string of lights around my heart.
It becomes obvious that Vivian is intrigued, even excited about the prospect. But you must remember, this is the 50s, she is a respected member of the community back home. For her to make this tenuous step would be life altering indeed. Yet she does.
And the story continues from there.
Directed by Donna Deitch and adapted to the screen by Natalie Cooper, from the novel by Jane Rule, Desert Hearts is a tastefully done exploration of sexuality. The few carefully done scenes between Cay & Vivian are discreetly filmed yet sensuous at the same time. Given the age of the movie, it still maintains an elusive erotic sense.
Other than the three main characters in the movie, the music becomes a star in its own right. Each piece is carefully chosen to reflect and expand the mood or situation at the time. Selections include: Leavin on your mind & Crazy by Patsy Cline; Rave On by Buddy Holly; Amigos Guitar & It wasnt God who made Honky Tonk angels by Kitty Wells; Blue Moon & When my blue moon turns to gold by Elvis Presley; I wished on the moon by Ella Fitzgerald; as well as at least 10 other hits from that era.
Filming was clear with several wonderful views of the desert during sunrise & sunset. Interior shots were not dark or shadowed. Acting moved with a good pace with each character developed enough to understand their thoughts and feelings. It starred Helen Shaver as Vivian Bell, Patricia Charbonneau as Cay Rivvers and Audra Lindley as Frances Parker.
Audra was vibrant and outspoken, lending a feeling of hardness yet at the same time a feeling of softness. Patricia Charbonneau portrayed both a self-assured, independent person and someone taking the roads alone, looking for completion in their life. Helen Shaver was just provocative.
Desert Hearts was nominated for Best Female Lead for Patricia Charbonneau from Independent Spirit Awards and won the Bronze Leopard for Helen Shaver from Locarno International Film Festival.
Its a beautiful piece of film that isnt restricted to life style. Messages portrayed in the movie can be for anyone that is facing love for the first time or looking back on a love lost. Realization of ones self is the major theme, and learning to accept what life serves up on your plate. I highly recommend this movie.
It didnt carry a rating but I would hand it an R rating, although I viewed it early this morning on The Movie Channel. There is nudity and some adult language, but everything is done very tastefully.
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age
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Susi Dawson (SusiDee34)
Live your life with the goal to 'pay it forward' and do one good thing for someone else
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An east coast English professor travels to Reno intent on dissolving her unfulfilling 12-year marriage and meets up with a fiery yet sensitive lesbian casino worker who forces her to confront emotions she hasn't experienced in years.