Desert Flower stars Liya Kebede and Sally Hawkins, Sherry Hormann directs.
The set up: There's a scene in Desert Flower (2011) that sums up the obstacles Somalian supermodel Waris Dirie faced in her life. The African immigrant (played by Liva Kebede) is at an English hospital. The female circumcision she received as a child has caused her complications as an adult. A doctor puts away his examination tools once he sees the mutilation she's suffered (there's nothing left to examine, just a small hole for urine flow). He calls over an orderly to translate. The man, instead of translating the doctor's suggestion for corrective surgery, shames her for showing herself to a stranger; he tells her to go home and live with her circumstances.
She does. But she returns a few days later and has the corrective surgery.
After being sold by her family when she was just a child, Dirie runs away, eventually landing in England. There she takes menial jobs and lives on the street until serendipity puts a fashion photographer in her way. He sees the beauty in her and helps her launch a career as a model (she eventually graces the covers of Vogue and Elle, and becomes the face of Estée Lauder cosmetics). But despite her success, she never forgot her treatment in Somalia, and she uses her fame to bring attention to the continued practice of female circumcision there.
What our critic Mark Holcomb said: 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
Here's our take: Yes, this is a movie with a message, but it's also a pretty good film. Kebede's transformation from ragamuffin to supermodel is slow and believable. Her relationship with a quirky English shop worker, who introduces Dirie' to the joys of disco and normal female genitalia, is comical and heartfelt.
The film stops short of preaching, and the Dirie character is wonderfully innocent, complex, fragile and strong.
Also worth your notice: Director Jean Cocteau's 1946 version of Beauty and the Beast is out today on Blu-ray with plenty of extras including enhanced sound and film quality, rare behind-the-scenes photos and the original trailer, directed and narrated by Jean Cocteau. The film is the perfect mix of fantasy and terror, which is all the better for its lack of today's special effects magic. Cocteau wrings the last bits of emotion out of the story without becoming morose or, worse, frothy. Actor Jean Marais is tragic and powerful in his role as the Beast, while Josette Day is willowy and tender as his beauty. (The death scene is a classic.)