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Director Donna Deitch makes a strong impression in her first feature film, a simple story of a lesbian love affair, based on Jane Rule's 1964 novel Desert of the Heart. Helen Shaver stars as Vivian Bell, an uptight 35-year-old Columbia University professor who travels to Reno to get a divorce.
She arrives in Reno on her way to Frances Parker's (Audra Lindley) ranch, where she is staying to establish six weeks of residency in order to obtain the divorce. Once at the ranch, Vivian catches the fancy of Frances's adopted daughter Cay (Patricia Charbonneau), a casino worker ten years younger than herself.
Vivien tries to remain unruffled as Cay makes unabashed overtures to her. Cay thinks that all Vivian needs is the love of another woman, and soon enough the two are in each other's arms.