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

Germany

Production

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.

Crew

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.

With

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

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