Desert Hearts (1985): Donna Deitch’s directorial debut is the first “real” lesbian film (an out lesbian, nobody dies, two women have sex). Based on lesbian author Jane Rule’s novel, Desert of the Heart follows Vivian (Helen Shaver), a repressed divorcee waiting out the legal finalities in a ranch guesthouse in 1950s Nevada. Vivian is all class and repression, and the ranch owner warns her to stay away from her irrepressible lesbian daughter Cay (Patricia Charbonneau, wearing jean shorts and cowboy boots and a whole lot of lesbian lust). Turns out, that’s who she’s drawn to, and soon Cay is unrepressing Viv in the first real lesbian sex scene in a film. Their growing relationship played against the rocky red soil and rolling landscape doesn’t necessarily have a future, but it’s the sight of Vivian’s slow but seismic sexual awakening that makes this film Deitch’s valentine to the rest of us.
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