Anyone wishing to see a thought-provoking film grounded in real-life issues should see “Dessert Flower”, a film that chronicles the life of Somali supermodel turned human rights activist Waris Dirie. Based on her 1998 bestselling autobiographical novel of the same title, the story is told through flashbacks. This film, written and directed by German director Sherry Hormann, features Ethiopian model Liya Kebede in the lead role as Dirie. The narrative begins where Waris does: in the scorching deserts of Somalia with her family who were nomadic shepherds. The opening shot of a brightly bloomed yellow flower is contrasted against the bleak landscape of the East African dessert, this becomes a lasting symbol of Waris, and of her ability to survive and thrive against suppressing odds. At the age of 13 Dirie takes a desperate journey across the Somali desert alone to escape an arranged marriage (as a 4th wife) to a much older man. She would later become one of the first to speak out against female genital mutilation (FGM), a brutal ritual that she endured as a young girl. Flashbacks show us the 13-year-old Waris who fled her homeland, and later the 3-year-old Waris who was taken to a female elder by her mother so that her external genitalia could be painfully cut away and her vagina essentially sown shut so as to preserve her virginity for her future husband. The procedure, which has no legitimate purpose other than to serve male interests, is still practiced in many countries today on what is estimated to be around 6,000 girls worldwide per day (according to statistics stated in the film), many of whom don’t even survive.
Hormann tells Waris Dirie’s story through a more contemporary and up-to-date lens utilizing a few aesthetic embellishments that make the narrative more relevant for the audience. The film leads the viewer through a series of the trials that Waris endured as she made her way from Mogadishu, to London and ultimately to international fame.
While in London Dirie takes a job working at the Sudanese London Embassy as a maid. In the wake of political outbreak in Somalia her relatives move back to their home nation and the Embassy closes. Dirie however, chooses to stay despite not having shelter and lives on the streets of London for short period. After working a series of jobs she befriends an aspiring dancer named Marilyn (played by Sally Hawkins) and they soon after become roommates. Later, while scrubbing floors in a fast food restaurant, Dirie is discovered by famed British photographer Terence Donovan (portrayed by Timothy Spall) and is catapulted into model-stardom.
At face value the film could be viewed as a Cinderella story of sorts but underneath the glamour that Dirie rose to, there is a very real and affecting problem that is being addressed. “Dessert Flower” painstakingly captures the fear and isolation of an immigrant torn between two cultures and struggling to find her place in the world without betraying her heritage....