American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Desert Flower" tells an extraordinary story in an ordinary way. 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.
The film is based on the life of Waris Dirie, an international supermodel who began life as a member of a nomadic tribe in Somalia. As a child, she was circumcised, as is the custom in many African countries. An old woman in the desert cut away those parts that could someday allow her to feel sexual pleasure and sewed shut her labia — so her husband could be sure he had married a virgin when he cut it open.
Many die during or because of this barbaric mutilation, still widely practiced today, although not mentioned in the Koran or any other holy book. It is the practice of subjugating women, making them commodities and denying them the full lives they deserve. It rises from the woman-hating men who propagate it by refusing to marry any woman who hasn’t been "cut."
When Waris was sold as a young teenager to an old man who already had three wives, she simply left one day, walking hundreds of miles across desert and scrubland to seek her grandmother in Mogadishu. Amazingly, she found her — and was hired by an aunt in London to work as a maid. The film cuts between her experiences as a young girl and what happened in London, where she ran away, lived on the streets and was befriended by a ditzy shop girl named Marylin (Sally Hawkins).