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242 Ratings

Desert Hearts

Directed by Donna Deitch
United States, 1985
Drama, LGBT+, Romance


While waiting for her divorce papers, a repressed professor of literature is unexpectedly seduced by a carefree, spirited young lesbian.

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Desert Hearts Directed by Donna Deitch

Awards & Festivals

Sundance Film Festival

1986 | Winner: Dramatic (Special Jury Prize)

1986 | Honorable Mention: Dramatic Competition


Locarno International Film Festival

1985 | Winner: Best Actress

Independent Spirit Awards

1987 | Nominee: Best Female Lead

Patricia Charbonneau and Helen Shaver deliver compelling performances as the romantic teacher and her student, respectively (though it’s the latter who’s the professor at Columbia), and the soundtrack is charming as all get out. But it’s Deitch’s direction that elevates it above whimsicality, giving it that something, a je ne sais quoi, similarly embodied by her characters.
January 04, 2019
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To understand the power of this scene, when it finally arrives after an eternity of waiting, you have to understand that most serious films by or about lesbians at the time did not even have sex scenes: they were tasteful, indirect, with French on the soundtrack, maybe a cutaway to morning . . . If Deitch was determined to deliver a visceral scene of authentic passion and desire, then in Charbonneau and Shaver, she found actors who would follow through on the promise of their characters.
November 14, 2017
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What does it mean to say a film has heart? I used that phrase when explaining why I appreciated Claude Sautet’s CLASSE TOUS RISQUE—which, contrary to critical consensus, I found to be in line with the well-meaning worldview of Sautet’s more congenial, better-known films—after seeing it for the first time at Noir City last weekend, and I applied it when mulling over the quiet firecracker that is Donna Deitch’s DESERT HEARTS. It has it in spades, both in name and spirit.
September 01, 2017
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