Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Those hungry for LGBT content often have to face the sad truth: there are sadly not enough genuinely great films out in past years to satiate one’s appetite. We should not have to settle for subpar productions content to deliver low-brow humor and simplistic over-sexualization. Movies that have broken the mold (such as Call Me By Your Name and My Own Private Idaho) are few and far between. In recent years however, the landscape of queer filmmaking has expanded and evolved more than ever before, as visibility reaches new heights. Private Desert may not accomplish anything noteworthy or new narrative-wise, but from a pure filmmaking standpoint, it is terrific, and beautifully filmed.

In the aftermath of a violent incident that is never explicitly detailed, Daniel (Antonio Saboia) is discharged from active police duty. Under investigation for his conduct, and instructed to undergo psychiatric monitoring, Daniel finds himself at a frustrating crossroads trying to get work. When the love of his internet life, Sara, stops responding to his texts, Daniel decides to take a chance seeking her out. He leaves his sister in charge of their ailing father, and drives out far into the desert. Asking around for the mysterious woman in her alleged hometown seems to be a fruitless endeavor until Daniel decides to hang up posters. This leads to contact with a caller who instructs Daniel to meet him by the boats if he hopes to convene with Sara. 

Daniel’s aimless direction in his own life leaves him channeling all efforts into a potential relationship with Sara. Of course, there is more to Sara’s reluctance and sudden ghosting that one would initially suspect. Without going into spoiler territory, an eventual meeting punctuated by “Total Eclipse of the Heart” touched my very soul. The way Private Desert is structured means that it completely shifts perspectives about halfway in. While one would initially suspect the only cause was to pad out the runtime, two differing viewpoints are necessary to obtain a quality portrait of the whole affair. 

For the majority of the film, I was left wondering why we are still not past these reductive types of stories in 2022. The angle that approaches bisexuality/homosexuality initially left me stupefied. Despite displaying full-frontal nudity in the first five minutes, I was waiting for a heavy queer angle to arrive for quite awhile. When it eventually gets there, Private Desert makes this element well worth the wait. Private Desert takes a surprising turn later on as well, shifting gears for the better in the last ten minutes, and completely redefining what has come before. With an ending that leaves both lead characters headed towards uncertain futures, director and co-writer Aly Muritiba leaves the viewer satiated but craving whatever comes next.

Private Desert screened at 2022’s Cleveland International Film Festival, and reaches limited release theaters on Friday, August 26th.

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