Review: ‘Desert Flower’

A glossy biopic of Somali nomad turned supermodel/celebrity activist Waris Dirie, "Desert Flower" won't be blooming in many Anglophone markets.

A glossy biopic of Somali nomad turned supermodel/celebrity activist Waris Dirie, “Desert Flower” won’t be blooming in many Anglophone markets. Pulpy script, played by a largely Brit cast on sitcom autopilot, is partly redeemed by a dignified perf from Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede as the runway star who spoke out against African female circumcision. But social politics come in a poor third after gorgeous East African landscapes and rags-to-riches comedy-drama.

German-based Yank Sherry Hormann (“Father’s Day”) made several slick romantic comedies in the ’90s, and brings a mainstream feel to the material here. Escaping from Somalia (repped by neighboring Djibouti), where she was genitally mutilated as a kid, Dirie (Kebede) ends up stranded in London (repped in interiors by Cologne) as an illegal immigrant working in a burger bar. She’s spotted by a famous photog (Timothy Spall, cuddly), befriended by a jobless ballerina (Sally Hawkins, goofy), beloved by a gauche handyman (Craig Parkinson, channeling Rhys Ifans) and groomed by a bossy agent (Juliet Stevenson, campy). Sumptuous African vistas by onetime Abel Ferrara d.p. Ken Kelsch, supported by Martin Todsharow’s lush score, seem only to trivialize the serious issues.

Desert Flower



A Majestic Filmverleih release of a Desert Flower Filmproductions. production, in association with Dor Film, Majestic Filmproduktion, BSI Intl. Invest, Bac Films, Mr. Brown Entertainment, MTM West Film & Television, Bayerischer Rundfunk, ARD/Degeto, with participation of Backup Films. (International sales: The Match Factory, Cologne.) Produced by Peter Herrmann. Co-producers, Benjamin Herrmann, Danny Krausz. Directed, written by Sherry Hormann, based on the autobiographical novel by Waris Dirie.


Camera (color), Ken Kelsch; editor, Clara Fabry; music, Martin Todsharow; production designer, Jamie Leonard; costume designer, Gabriele Binder. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Venice Days), Sept. 5, 2009. German title: Wuestenblume. English, Somali dialogue. Running time: 124 MIN.


Liya Kebede, Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson, Craig Parkinson, Anthony Mackie, Meera Syal, Soraya Omar-Scego.

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