The adaptation of Waris Dirie's international best-seller, Desert Flower is about a Somalian peasant girl who escaped the desert and found a life as fashion model. The film proves a gripping, if uneven, cinematic journey. Devotees of the book should ensure a solid following with careful promotion, although the horrific underlying issue of female circumcision may deter sensitive viewers.
The story of the former supermodel, Waris Dirie, would stretch credulity if offered as a fictional account, yet it's all true: her trajectory from being a poor nomad child to super-model and UN Ambassador is both revealing and inspirational.
She fled her family at the age of 13 after her father sold her to an older man who planned to make her his fourth wife. She survived the trek to Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, and ended up in London as a servant to wealthy relatives before enduring homelessness and illegal immigrant status. Eventually a leading fashion photographer discovered her.
When her novel appeared on stands in 1998 it was the first many had heard of the practice of female circumcision, still prevalent in certain parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
At the peak of her career, she revealed in interview the genital mutilation that she had to suffer when she was five. When she turned 36 she decided to end her time as a model and dedicate her life to fighting this archaic ritual as a UN spokeswoman against female circumcision.
German-based American director and scriptwriter Sherry Hormann (Father's Day, Silent Shadow, Guys and Balls) found the perfect candidate to incarnate Dirie in the Ethiopian-born New York top model Liya Kebede (The Good Shepherd and Lord of War).
Much of the film is set in London, with Dirie as an innocent adrift in a confusing world of pimps, prostitutes and menial cleaning jobs, before she befriends a flighty shop assistant, Marylin (Sally Hawkins). Hawkins is the first of several accomplished British character actors to appear in the film, including Timothy Spall as the celebrated photographer who discovered her and Juliet Stevenson as a fashion guru.
Flashbacks are used to show Dirie's life before her success on the catwalk. Although based on the autobiography, Hormann does take some artistic liberties, reimagining the story through a quirky blend of drama and comedy. She doesn't flinch from her controversial subject matter, yet restrains herself from being overly graphic.
Distributor: National Geographic Films
Cast: Liya Kebede, Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson, Craig Parkinson, Anthony Mackie, Meera Syal and Soraya Omar-Scego
Director/Screenwriter: Sherry Hormann
Producer: Peter Herrmann
Rating: R for some violent content, a scene of sexuality and language.
Running time: 124 min.
Release date: March 18 ltd.