LIYA KEBEDE SALLY HAWKINS TIMOTHY SPALL ANTHONY MACKIE
Desert Flower was completed in 2009 and I’m not sure why its taken two years for it to hit the big screen, and in select theatres at that. What looks and perhaps sounds like another racial discrimination film is anything but. The apparent low-grade camera work was a huge turn off, but became easily overlooked as the story began to draw me into a world and I have not seen on film before. Female circumcision is a foreign concept to most Westerners, yet according to the film over 6,000 women are mutilated by this practice each year. Desert Flower is the compelling true story of famous model Waris Dirie who overcame unbelievable hardships.
Female circumcision, practiced among a number of Somolian tribes and performed by female elders, is a religious ceremony where a young girl is extracted of her delicate female parts to “sow her up” until she is married, when her husband will then “open her” on the wedding night. Waris Dirie (Liya Kebede) is on the streets of London when she meets fast talking Marylin (Sally Hawkins) who is first scared by this dark skinned woman wrapped in unfamiliar ethnic garb. Marylin however has a big heart and takes in Waris, who speaks no English. When Marylin learns of her new friend’s situation, both the genital mutilation and being in England illegally she tries to help her anyway she can.
This film isn’t solely about the disturbing Somalian practices although the script certainly uses that as a platform; Waris endured many other difficulties in her life. When the film works, it uses the idea of an extremely isolated individual being thrust forward into a fast pace moving society. Waris is dropped into the scene of fashion and runway modeling with no experience or idea what to do, she simply tells one photographer “I just want a better life”. While this is a heart breaking story of an amazing woman, the film is careful not to let the viewer settle into depression and has taken on a decidedly inspritational tone..
Both leading female performances from Kebede (The Good Shepherd) and Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky) are remarkable. You will see familiar supporting faces throughout the movie, and while this film’s meager budget is apparent, it’s message is triumphant. Two flaws restraining the film are flashback scenes and the film’s timeline. The flashbacks to Somalia that are often redundant, slow paced and disrupt the progressive flow of the script. films chronology becomes a bit muddled and several elements used made it a little difficult for the viewer to keep track of when things had jumped forward.
Final Thought – A unique and compelling film with strong performances about a subject most of us are unaware of.
By: Dustin Chase W.
Editor: Charley Carroll