Desert Hearts Blu-ray Review

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Once-forbidden love

by Casimir Harlow Nov 19, 2017 at 6:08 AM

  • Movies review

    Desert Hearts Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £17.99

    Film Review

    Desert Hearts was the atmospheric 1985 debut from filmmaker Donna Deitch: a tale of forbidden love in narrow-minded 50s Nevada.

    A then-unprecedented top-down female-driven production, Donna Deitch's film of screenwriter Natalie Cooper's adaptation of Jane Rule's 1964 novel, Desert of the Heart, was driven by a trio of lead performances from Helen Shaver, Patricia Charbonneau and Audra Lindley. Its tale of brewing passion clashing with societal expectations and prejudices would appear pretty restrained in terms of scope - at least thirty years later - but back in '85 (and, indeed, in the 50s setting it portrays) the story of burgeoning love between two women was both daring and controversial. Dietch and co. handle the whole independently-funded affair with tenderness, respect and care, crafting a warm and authentic period atmosphere in the moody desert setting, and allowing the invested leads to orbit around one another gracefully like planets drawn to each other by gravitational forces beyond their control.
    The Colour of Money's Helen Shaver does well as the straight-laced out-of-towner, who hits Nevada waiting for her divorce to be finalised, only to get wrapped up in the whirlwind surrounding a rebellious free-spirited local girl. It's Patricia Charbonneau who stands out, however, excelling in the kind of part you could see Mary Stuart Masterson (Some Kind of Wonderful, Fried Green Tomatoes) being celebrated for back in the 80s. Unfortunately Charbonneau's career never really got started after this controversial debut, picking up bit parts in everything from Manhunter to Robocop 2, but largely unrecognised in the industry, which is a shame given her commitment to the project. Although almost unexceptional by today's standards, Desert Hearts was quite audacious for the period and, on reflection, is still a relatively rare example of lesbian love portrayed sensually but without sensationalism.

    Picture Quality

    Desert Hearts Picture Quality
    Desert Hearts was shot by celebrated cinematographer Robert Elswit, who supervised this newly-restored 4K transfer which was created by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in conjunction with the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project and the Sundance Institute. The Criterion Collection deliver the film to Region B-locked UK Blu-ray complete with this restored 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen.

    Robert Elswit supervised this newly-restored 4K transfer

    Detail is impressive for the vintage - and budget - of the piece, and particularly striking on the exquisite landscape shots that lap up the stunning desert scenery, and gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. These outdoor sequences boast a vibrant, organic representation of the colour scheme, strong black levels and rich, natural tones, with a nice layer of suitably filmic grain running across them. The image isn't always consistent, however, with the odd shot here and there - mostly indoor scenes - raising inconsistency in terms of grain and simply not delivering the same level of detail. For the most part, however, it's an impressive restoration job that undoubtedly leaves this movie in the best shape anybody is likely to see it.

    Sound Quality

    Desert Hearts Sound Quality
    The soundtrack is a strong offering too

    The accompanying uncompressed linear PCM 1.0 mono soundtrack is a strong and faithful offering too, not really giving a huge amount of breadth - given its limitations that's understandable - but nevertheless providing clear and coherent representation of the dialogue, whilst the entirely atmospheric effects soak up the environments. Engine noises, bustling bars, and whipping desert winds provide some healthy measure of rich ambiance, whilst the period songs offer up the highlight of the track, delivering classics from Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly and Jim Reeves with decent resonance and only a hint of tinny sharpness at the upper end.


    Criterion deliver up their usual rich package, headlined by an Audio Commentary from director Donna Dietch recorded in 2007, but also boasting new features in the way of an Interview with Dietch and actress Jane Lynch, Interviews with the leads Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau, and a Featurette with Elswit on the locations, Remembering Reno. There's also an excerpt from Fiction and Other Truths: A Film About Jane Rule, a 1994 Documentary about Rule, the author of the original 1964 source novel. The package itself is rounded off with the usual nice Criterion booklet.

    Blu-ray Verdict

    Desert Hearts Blu-ray Verdict
    Desert Hearts is a rare example of lesbian love portrayed sensually but without sensationalism

    Criterion's Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release of Desert Hearts provides excellent 4K-remastered high definition video and strong mono audio as well as a hefty selection of decent extras, leaving this a must-have for fans.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.99

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