Desert Flower: A Tale of Genital Mutilation With Oddball ’80s Humor


Combining a harrowingly frank account of childhood genital mutilation with ’80s-style goofball humor, this adaptation of Somalian supermodel Waris Dirie’s 1998 autobiography only narrowly escapes PSA purgatory. The film begins as 12-year-old Waris (Soraya Omar-Scego) flees an arranged marriage nine years after her traumatic cutting, and picks up a few years later in London, where she has been reduced to homelessness and low-paying grunt work. Waris (played as an adult by fellow supermodel Liya Kebede) simultaneously gloms on to a shop girl with a heart of mush (Sally Hawkins, bearing the burden of Desert Flower’s anachronistic zaniness) and gets discovered by fashion photographer Terry Donaldson (Timothy Spall), who brings her an agent (Juliet Stevenson at top volume) and, eventually, fame. The latter part of the film shifts between past and present-day, until its final 20 minutes illuminate what “female circumcision” precisely entails in excruciating detail. Director Sherry Horman deserves props for resisting the travelogue-with-a-message route here, but her straightforward approach is practically derailed by several tension-relieving but perplexingly John Hughes–esque comic flourishes and a generally dowdy visual palette. Luckily, her cast makes up for the lapses, and Kebede is especially effective at showing how triumph over culturally sanctioned brutality remains a tentative prospect at best.