‘Private Desert’ (2022) Review: Overcoming the Patriarchal Constraints of a Culture

Aly Muritiba’s Private Desert (Deserto Particular) explores the desire of unlocking parts of love that have never been opened before. The breadth of love is infinite at the core of this exotic story. It’s quiet, romantic, forbidden, and hidden from the eyes of spectators. The two characters in this movie fight oppression, traditionalism, and patriarchal forces that torment and dictate their lives. Private Desert is a subtle love story that focuses on finding love in times of great danger and embracing the possibility that there is always a way to overcome the constraints of expressing themselves.

Daniel (Antonio Saboia) is a police officer on unpaid leave after committing a violent crime and takes care of his dementia-ridden father at home. He is a tough, masculine, heterosexual man with zero emotional intelligence and lets his anger do the work, costing him his life and job. The media scrutinises him every chance they get, and the only person who helps him escape the wrath of it all is a woman named Sara (Pedro Fasanaro). They explicitly text and send voice messages on WhatsApp but when Sara ignores his text messages, he sets out to find her with the only information he knows: the name of her hometown. When he arrives in the town, he asks around, prints flyers and pastes them everywhere, and uses every other investigative skill he has and hopes that somebody will reach out to him. One day, he receives a cryptic phone call from her friend, Fernando (Thomas Aquino), and Daniel asks him to meet and talk about Sara. After their conversation, Fernando realises that Daniel has no intention of hurting her, and Sara decides to meet Daniel. Their relationship is complicated, but their reunion forces Sara and Daniel to confront intense feelings and learn a few secrets about themselves.

Private Desert shifts the narrative from Daniel to Sara. The first hour of the movie chronicles Daniel’s struggle to come to terms with the harm that he inflicted on the rookie sergeant and taking care of his father. The movie doesn’t try to sympathise with his violent behaviour. He’s not portrayed as a good person but a troubled man whose anger is boiling beneath his hard exterior. When he decides to go on a cross-country journey to find Sara, he knows that it might be difficult to find her. Daniel is desperate to find out why she went radio silent and he will do anything. The narrative slowly starts to shift when Daniel meets Sara. When he finds out why Sara has been ignoring him and the secret she hides from him, everything makes sense.

The second half of the movie depicts Sara’s life. After a brief meeting with Daniel at the club, she returns home to her grandma (Zezita Matos) without her dress and wig. Here, the movie introduces Robson. He is a young man trying to blend into an environment that will not accept him. He works during the day and at night, spends time with Fernando, and lives as Sara. She is a trans woman, and given the violent behaviour heterosexual men have towards a trans woman’s identity, she (and Muritiba) understands it. After Daniel’s impatience and pressure to meet Sara, she reluctantly gives in and meets him. There are sexual tension and romantic feelings between Sara and Daniel. When the truth of Sara/Robson’s identity is revealed, Daniel struggles with it and the discovery that not everything is as it seems. Sara’s life opens his eyes to other possibilities and he attempts to understand her life. On the other hand, this lifestyle terrifies him. The truth is that he wants to be with Sara but he is afraid to be vulnerable.

Furthermore, the movie looks at the external pressure, such as culture and religion that blends into the anxieties of Sara and Daniel’s relationship. They are both afraid to commit to each other. Their tension is confusing, but the question remains is, will Daniel be able to adjust his feelings and finally accept who he is? There is a greater risk for Sara to explore the relationship. It’s dangerous, but the film never tries to diminish it and makes these tensions clear through the dramatic storytelling. All of this is understood while watching the movie and Muritiba provides every narrative and visual detail beautifully and vulnerably.

Private Desert paints a grim reality of the world that a lot of people like Sara/Robson and Daniel live in. Muritiba lets the characters evolve emotionally and gives them the space to grow, especially Daniel who learns how to accept himself. In the case of Sara, she decides to live her life the way she wants, instead of being dictated by a religious sanctuary or following cultural expectations. It’s a heartbreaking and bittersweet ending that depicts the lives of these characters. Muritiba shows there is humanity, love, and connectedness even despite the initial difference, but honesty and sympathy are what drive this story.

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