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Desert Flower (2009)



Average Rating: 6.5/10
Critic Reviews: 8
Fresh: 5 | Rotten: 3

No consensus yet.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 3,834

My Rating

Movie Info

A woman who achieves stardom against all odds uses her celebrity to make a difference in the land she left behind in this drama based on a true story. Waris Dirie (Liya Kebede) was born in Somalia, where she was one of a dozen children raised by a family of travelers. Waris grew up poor, and at the age of five, like many girls in East Africa, she was the victim of genital mutilation, a practice performed by Muslims in the belief it will insure that the girls will remain "true virgins." At 13,



Jul 19, 2011


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All Critics (18) | Top Critics (8) | Fresh (9) | Rotten (9) | DVD (1)

Written and directed by German filmmaker Sherry Hormann, it works as well as it does because of the performances she's drawn from a solid cast.

March 31, 2011 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It has a compelling message and surrounds it with biopic scenes that appear to be brought in from a different kind of movie. The effect is rather unsettling.

March 31, 2011 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Waris Dirie is an inspiration, inside and out, and so is this movie.

March 23, 2011 Full Review Source: New York Observer
New York Observer
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The broad comedy clashes with the movie's final message.

March 18, 2011 Full Review Source: NPR
Top Critic IconTop Critic

"Desert Flower," a well-made film that depicts the remarkable life of the model Waris Dirie, manages to be both a classic feel-good story and about as far from a feel-good story as you can get.

March 18, 2011 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Good idea, mediocre presentation.

March 18, 2011 Full Review Source: New York Post
New York Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This inspiring story of a nomad-turned-model is executed in the style of a made-for-TV movie.

August 15, 2011 Full Review Source: Film Journal International
Film Journal International

Mature biopic has moving drama but lacks coherence.

April 11, 2011 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

Waris' saga is one that needs to be told, but this well-meaning dramatization might have had more power if it were a documentary.

March 31, 2011 Full Review Source: Oregonian

A gripping, if uneven, cinematic journey.

March 22, 2011 Full Review Source: Boxoffice Magazine
Boxoffice Magazine

The film's unabashed willingness to go from bleak topical piece on genital mutilation to guilty-pleasure glamour can be disconcerting.

March 20, 2011 Full Review Source: Slant Magazine
Slant Magazine

A stirring story that mixes personal horror, courage and eventually triumph.

March 18, 2011 Full Review Source: Back Stage
Back Stage

'Desert Flower' is a superbly told story with unapologetic conviction, noticeable fire, and the purest intentions of moving your soul. The first must-see movie of the year.

February 15, 2011 Full Review Source:

Desert Flower is just like Pretty Woman, if Pretty Woman were also about genital mutilation in Somalia (which I believe it originally was).

February 13, 2011 Full Review Source: Quickflix | Comment (1)

A beautiful model bears eloquent witness to the butchery of female circumcision.

February 5, 2011 Full Review Source: Compuserve

It cannot get past the simplest of outlooks, with Waris as victim, survivor or star; there's little insight into she really is.

December 8, 2010 Full Review Source:

Audience Reviews for Desert Flower

Very terrible subject. Well done little movie. I remember this subject being in the headlines many years I know why. I sure hope that this horrifying practice in other countries of circumcising women is done with. Good lord what a world!!
January 29, 2012

Super Reviewer

"Desert Flower" starts with Waris(Liya Kebede) walking out of a doorway into pedestrian traffic in London in traditional dress. Homeless, she has little choice but to sleep on the streets and dig in the garbage for any scraps of food she can find. That's not to mention her attempt at shoplifting going badly awry, alerting an employee, Marylin(Sally Hawkins). However, Marylin takes pity on the woman from Somalia, putting her up in her room, giving her a lead on a job at a burger bar and even donating her down jacket to the cause. While at the fast food restaurant, it is not Waris' mopping abilities that catch the attention of Donaldson(Timothy Spall) but her cheekbones, since he is a photographer and gives her his card. As a form of celebrating, the women go dancing where Waris meets Harry(Anthony Mackie) from New York. Later that night, the friends make disturbing discoveries about each other.

Even with a couple of subplots that go nowhere, "Desert Flower" is a compelling movie that puts a spotlight on the very serious problem of female genital mutilation in the developing world. Amongst other things, Winston Churchill was wrong when he said history is written by the victors. It is written by the survivors, Waris being a prime example, after her ordeal and journey from Somalia. And throughout the movie Waris gets increasingly more comfortable with herself and less ashamed of her body. Unlike her friend Marylin, grace and talent come naturally to Waris, inferring that she was meant to become famous enough to take control of her own narrative to tell her story to millions while Donaldson takes little advantage of any fame as a photographer. All of which got me thinking of a conversation I had with a friend after Elizabeth Taylor's death this week. She mentioned that Taylor through her celebrity had brought in more money for AIDS research than her films did.
March 27, 2011
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

Desert Flower is a great biopic film that aims for a specific message, and delivers that message powerfully and to great effect. The tale it seeks to lay out works on a number of levels. From a rags to riches story, it succeeds, with very moving and well integrated flashbacks, contrasted with a much different, though still quite flawed, modern day London. Where the film really makes an impact, however, is with the horrendous, but all to believable, subject of female genital mutilation. This is handled with grace, the film doesn't hit you over the head with how terrible it is, but instead chooses to go the more subtle route, not showing its hand until we care enough about the character and her journey to really feel impacted.

Though the film does occasionally stumble on tone, the script is largely well done, and so is the direction and composition, one that straddles the line between the different themes fairly well. It's also acted impressively, with Liya Kebede delivering a strong performance.

Though the ending may come across as a bit conventional and too direct, the film never loses its heart, and conveys what it seeks to in an effective manner, making it a strong and memorable drama.

4/5 Stars
November 3, 2012
Jeffrey Meyers

Super Reviewer

Waris Dirie must be an amazing woman. There is evidence shown through snippets of horrific moments in her life. The problem with the film is, that there is too much attention to her modelling career and the difficulties she encountered as a model, than her actual struggle with her background, her body and the transformation from a victim to a voice of of hope for others. Sally Hawkins' character although important to the plot is setting a silly tone to a serious issue.
April 8, 2010

Super Reviewer

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Foreign Titles

  • Wüstenblume (DE)
  • Desert Flower (UK)
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