Wustenblume (Desert Flower) (2009)





Director:     Sherry Horman. 

Starring:     Liya Kebede (Waris Dirie),   Sally Hawkins (Marylin),  Craig Parkinson (Neil),  Meera Syal (Pushpa Patel),  Anthony Mackie (Harold Jackson),  Juliet Stevenson (Lucinda),  Timothy Spall (Terry Donaldson),  Soraya Omar-Scego (Waris, 12).

in Somalia a 13 year old girl runs away from her mother and an arranged marriage; she moves to London, becomes a model and then the UN spokeswoman against female circumcision


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

In Somalia a young girl shepherds her herd of goats.  Her brother and sister run up to her and she holds up the recently born lamb for them to see.  They now run a bit. Waris Dirie drives her herd down to the lowlands.  There she gives her mother a hug and they provide water from a watering hole to the camels. They sit down to eat, but they have very little food to divide amongst them.   After the meal, Waris starts milking one of the goats.   Her little brother says to her:  "Waris, I don't want anything to separate us."  She promises never to leave him. 

They move the sheep herds to other places to feed. 

Many years later.  Waris is in London, England.  She steps out of her apartment building and goes shopping.  She is covered with a traditional Somalia dress with her hair covered.  She goes into a store and starts putting jewelry in a shopping bag.  A female saleswoman keeps an eye on her, because she figures the woman is shop-lifting.  She walks over to Waris looking in a mirror at herself.  From behind Waris, the saleswoman says:  "Shoplifting is useless."  This doesn't register with Waris.  But then she sees the sales woman in the mirror.  She turns around holding up a dress in front of her and just smiles at her.  The saleswoman says:  "Right.  I'm getting security."

Waris runs to the restroom.  The saleswoman comes into the restroom crying for some unknown reason and she can't find any paper towels to wipe her face with.  So she goes to a stall to get some toilet paper and runs right into Waris looking at her passport.  Both women scream.  The saleswoman backs up with the little bit of toilet paper that she managed to grab and shouts:  "I'm calling the police.  It's not allowed, you hear."   Waris smiles and the saleswoman says:  "Oh, funny am I?  Well, watch me dial 999 and see how funny that is.  Get out of here, now, never come back and we'll forget we ever saw each other.  Okay?"  Waris doesn't say anything, so the saleswoman says:  "You! Out!"  She comes into the stall as if she is physically going to pull Waris out of the stall. 

Waris shouts:  "I here" several times. Then she says in her language:  "I have nowhere else to go!  I can't go back to Somalia!"  The saleslady recognizes the word Somalia and then asks her:  "How many years?  You, in London?"  Waris holds up 6 fingers.  "Six years and you still don't speak English!"  Waris says:  "Today is your lucky day!"  The saleslady bolts out of the bathroom and is leaving for home.  Waris follows her and gets on the elevator with the worker.  The English woman looks peeved but doesn't say anything. 

Outside the store the worker runs.  She looks behind her, but doesn't see Waris.  Waris runs right up to her trying to ask her about something written on a piece of paper.  The woman says:  "Look!  You're out of there now!  Yeah.  Okay?  Go get yourself a homeless shelter or something."  Waris gives up.  She grabs a piece of cardboard and find a niche in the wall of a building and sits down.  She has to rumble through trash bags to get something to eat. 

Waris gets on a bus and sees the saleswoman.  She immediately goes to sit down next to her.  The woman tries to hide her face from Waris, but it's too late.  She' sitting next to her.  Waris pushes the piece of paper up to her face and the saleslady takes it from her.  Waris kisses her hand. 

Waris is following the woman again, but this time the saleslady tells Waris that she can only stay one night in her apartment.  Now Waris asks her name.  It's Marilyn.  Waris tells Marilyn her name and holds out her hand to shake hands.  Marilyn is wary of where that hand has been, so she gives the slightest of hand shakes (more like a finger shake, really). 

They go into Marilyn's apartment building and the owner, an Indian lady, gives her the key to her place.  But she then asks about the young woman with her.  Marilyn jokes saying that's her sister, but the owner, named Pushpa, doesn't want the foreigner up in the room with Marilyn.   Marilyn has to beg and plead until Pushpa relents.  When Waris finds out that it's okay, she kisses Pushpa's hand and calls her "Mama".  Pushpa is a bit taken aback by this and she rubs the spot where her hand was kissed. 

In the morning, Marilyn wakes up to a spotless room.  Waris has cleaned everything and put things in their proper places.  She also has a cup of coffee ready for Marilyn. 

Marilyn writes down the name and address of a burger joint where Waris might be able to get a job.  She walks her out to the lobby.  They run into the caretaker Neil and he is impressed with the looks of Waris and asks to be introduced.  Marilyn seems bothered by this, but she introduces them.  Then she gives Waris her coat, sends her out and then she returns to her room.  Oh, she also gives Waris a kiss on the right cheek. 

Waris mops the floor of the burger joint.  An older man sits and watches Waris.  When she cleans the tables, he notices that she sticks unopened, wrapped food into het pocket.  He goes up to her and tells her that he is a photographer who is always looking for new faces.  He gives her his business card and tells her to call him if she is interested.  She is about to throw the card into the garbage when the photographer says that she might want to hang on to that card.  So she sticks it in her pocket.

When Marilyn walks home, she runs into the waiting Waris.  They go in to speak with Pushpa, who objects to the young woman staying another night with Marilyn.  Waris takes out her money and shows it to Pushpa saying that she has money to pay her.  Pushpa stills says no.  So Waris goes over and sits in a lobby chair and curls up like she is sleeping and asks if she can stay one night in the chair.  No!  Waris pleads:  "Please, Mama, please!"  Pushpa says:  "No one calls me mama." 

Obviously, Pushpa relented because Waris is up in the shared shower room with Marilyn who has just finished her shower.  Waris gets into the shower and starts washing her clothes.  Another apartment dweller finishes her shower and wraps her body (some nudity) with a towel.  Marilyn is getting a kick out of watching this through the semi-transparent shower curtain.  She grabs Marilyn's towel.  Waris feels around for her towel and then sees that Marilyn has it.  Marilyn dashes from the shower room laughing, as Waris calls out:  "Marilyn!  Marilyn!"  Marilyn runs into her room with Waris chasing after her.  The caretaker sees Waris run right passed him and he is pleased at what he sees.

Marilyn is going to take Waris out dancing tonight.  Waris cooks spinach and sardines for dinner.  Uggh!  The caretaker brings up a letter for Marilyn.  Meanwhile, he starts talking with Waris.  Marilyn looks at the letter, gets upset and starts pushing the caretaker out of her room.  She closes the door.   Marilyn says she just got another rejection letter and she now realizes that she will never be a dancer.  She cries on her bed saying she will never be anything more than a saleswoman.  Waris tries to cheer her up, but isn't having much success.  So she holds one of Marilyn's dresses up to her body and reminds Marilyn that they are going dancing. 

In the club, Marilyn is bouncing around the dance floor very happy.  Waris, with Marilyn's jacket still on, waves to her.  She sees a black man at the bar.  He comes over to her and says his name is Harold.  He asks her name:  Waris.  He takes off her jacket asking her if she is cold.  Waris looks very sexy in her dress, but she crosses her arms over her chest with her hands on opposite shoulders and looks very self-conscious about her outfit. He wants to dance with her, but she puts him off asking him what does the name Harold mean, because in Somalia all names have meanings.  So what does Waris mean?  "Desert Flower".  He explains that he's from New York, USA and is here for only a couple of weeks. 

Harold gets her to dance.  He starts out very slowly.  He has her make a turn, but she just does a half-turn and he hold her body up next to his.  This embarrasses Waris and she runs out of the club.  She stands outside looking at the Thames Rivers.  When she does go home, she finds Marilyn having sex with a man in the bed.  (Brief nudity.)  She is shocked and stunned again.  She backs up and leans against a wall.  When Marilyn and the fellow come out of the room hugging and kissing, Waris goes inside the room and closes the door.     

Marilyn comes in and starts straightening up her bed.  Waris just sits on her bed with her head bending down.  So Marilyn apologizes to Waris saying that now she does feel guilty.  Waris tells her:  "A respectable woman does not do that."  Marilyn, of course, defends her modern, up-to-date life style in London and asks what's so bad about it?  Waris says:  "Only a cut woman is a good woman."  Marilyn doesn't know what she's talking about.  Waris asks in amazement:  "You're not cut?"    Marilyn is getting the idea that Waris was cut up somewhere dealing with her sexual features.  She now asks Waris to show her.  Waris gets up, pulls her pants down and shows Marilyn.  Now it is Marilyn's time to be shocked and stunned.  She says:  "They cut  -- they cut everything away and then sewed it up."  When did they do this to Waris?  When she was three years old.  Waris sees that Marilyn's eyes are tearing up and she begins to realize that something is wrong with her and her eyes fill with tears.  Marilyn asks:  "Can you feel anything down there?"  Waris doesn't know what Marilyn's talking about.  Is that why Waris spends so long in the bathroom?  Waris says defensively:  "That's what it is to be a woman."

Marilyn tells her:  "No."  So Marilyn is going to show Waris her sexual parts.  She pulls down her underwear.  Now Waris is really upset, asking:  "They did not do it to you?"  No.  "They don't do it to anyone here."  Now, Waris starts to cry. Marilyn tries to comfort her.  She kisses Waris' hand gently and emotionally and they both sit down on Waris' bed. 

The photographer goes back to the burger joint.  He says he knew Waris wasn't going to call him.  And if she had called, he probably would have been disappointed in her.  She's right not to let a strange man "chat her up".  He asks her if she still has that card he gave her?

Marilyn and Waris eat lunch on a park bench.  Waris hands her the photographer's card.  Marilyn is shocked.  The Terry Donaldson gave you this?  He is a great fashion photographer.  Waris could make a fortune out of this.  Marilyn now gives her a piece of paper with Harold Jackson's address on it.   Waris says she will not go to see him in New York.  He will find out that she is "different".  All of a sudden Waris gets pains in her lower mid-section.  Marilyn takes her to the hospital. 

An obstetrician is going to check Waris out.  Waris is scared.  She's so stiff!  The nurse has to move her top half back and her legs up and into the stirrups.  The doctor starts and she starts whimpering with her eyes shut tight and her face is in a stiff, tight grimace.  The doctor doesn't see this everyday.  He nicely tells her:  "I can't give you back what's been taken away, but at least I can make sure it won't hurt, okay?"  He has a male Somalian nurse come in and tell Waris that she was tied up too tightly in a botched job of sewing.  He wants to operate on her right away.  But the male nurse makes his own translation and says she should be ashamed of herself letting a white man see her this way?  Does her mother know she is doing this?  Waris cries.  The nurse tells the Doctor that Waris will think about the operation. 

Waris walks in an ethnic part of London where Muslim women have their heads completely covered except for their eyes.  She notices a Muslim woman just glaring at her.

Waris remembers back when she first told her mother that she was bleeding down there.  Mother says that just means that she's becoming a woman.  Waris complains about the pain and all mom says is that the pain will pass.  She also remembers that it was arranged that she would marry an old man named Galool Mohammed.  She will be the man's fourth wife.  She will be wed tomorrow.  Waris is not happy about this.  Later she cries about it.  Her mother tells her that she has to marry the man because he paid a lot of money for her.  "You can't say no." 

At night Waris starts running away.  Her little brother runs after her and asks her where is she going?  To grandmother's house.  He says that the capital Mogadishu is far away.  He wants to come with her.  Waris tells her brother that in the big city she will earn a lot of money and then she will come back for him. 

Waris runs across the barren, rocky land.  She has to cross over mountains.  Waris finds herself on the edge of a high mesa with dirty, bloody feet. She eats leaves and bark.  She reaches the flat land again.  She is scared and lonely, thirsty and hungry.  She reaches a road.  A truck stops for her.  She gets in the back.  The truck driver later comes into the back of the truck and rapes her.  She grabs a stone (the truck is hauling stones) and hits him in the head several times, knocking him unconscious.

She finally reaches Mogadishu and it is very busy there.  She is taken in by her grandmother and aunt.  They give her something to eat and drink.  The aunt says the girl has to go back home, but grandmother:  "A girl who dares the long journey through the desert has a good reason."  The aunt also says it was a miracle that the girl survived the journey.  Grandmother believes it was Allah's will.  Grandmother tells Waris that her mother ran away to marry Waris' father. 

Waris walks out of the ethnic neighborhood and over to see the obstetrician.  She wants the operation.  The nurse remembers her and takes her in.

After the operation Marilyn comes in to visit Waris.  She brings her flowers.  All well, Waris goes to see the photographer.  She tells him:  "You don't look famous."  She returns a book he left in the burger joint.  Now she asks:  "So how much you pay to take my picture?"  The man laughs.  He starts taking pictures, but Waris keeps closing her eyes and grimacing every time the flash goes off.  So he distracts her by asking if she misses home?  Mother and father?  Brothers and sisters?  Now she thinks about home and is sad, but at least she doesn't overreact to the flash now. 

A woman manager named Lucinda tells Waris that the photographer said she has one of the most beautiful profiles imaginable.  The woman is very busy so she doesn't have much patience with Waris.  They get high heel shoes for her, but she can't walk in them.  The lady tells her to lift up her dress.  She wants to see if  Waris has a problem with cellulite.  Waris doesn't want to and the lady decides to do it for her.  She finds that Waris checks out fine.  Now she gives her an address and tells her to take a taxi, because the photographer is waiting for her.  She says she can't because she has no money.   So the woman gives her some money, but tells her she wants it back. 

Waris sits and waits all day, while the other models all go in.  She is the very last one to come in.  And so she becomes a model. 

Waris sees Lucinda again at the office, but this time she is very nice to Waris.  She says she is going to see the world.  She has booked her for shows all over the globe.  In addition, she has two campaigns in America.  Waris is impressed and happy. 

Marilyn goes for a  dance audition.  Next time we see her she is walking really fast to her apartment building.  She walks right passed Waris, finally realizes it and comes back for Waris.  Marilyn did not pass the audition.  But Waris has a present for her.  Marilyn opens the box and finds a really expensive watch inside.  Waris says they are going to pay her a lot of money, so don't fret over the cost.  Now she asks Marilyn to teach her how to walk. 

So up in the halls of the apartment building, they practice walking like a model.  The caretaker comes up and intently watches the women walk.

The woman from the office comes to the apartment building and balls out Waris for making a fool out of her.  Waris is here illegally.  Marilyn tells the woman to take it easy, but the woman just ignores her.  The model handler then says that Waris' passport is six years out of date.  She is going to be deported back to where she came from.  Neil says he will marry Waris, but Lucinda says that won't be necessary.  . 

Waris goes with the woman and all the models to the airport to fly to Paris.  Her name is now Waris O'Sullivan.  But the guards at the airport detain her. 

Flashback.  Waris remembers back to when she lived with her grandmother for awhile in Mogadishu.  Grandmother says that her Aunt Marium, a sister of Waris' mother, is the wife of the Somali ambassador in London and she needs a maid.  Waris will go to London and be away when the war starts in Somaila.  Grandmother tells her:  "Don't come back."

Grandmother takes Waris to the Mogadishu airport.   She gives the young girl her passport, kisses her on the hands and the head and sends her on her way.  A young lady walks with Waris up to the plane.  Waris takes a last look at Mogadishu and gets on the plane.  Her little brother sees a jet plane flying overhead and thinks about his sister. A limousine brings Waris to the Somali embassy.  She is kept inside the house.  And boy is she bored.  Her aunt treats her roughly.  She can't even watch any television.  One day her aunt rushes into the television room and quickly turns on the television.  She wants to hear the latest news from Somalia.  War has started there.  Everyone starts packing to leave.  By the time that Waris gets out of the embassy, all the embassy cars have left.

An immigration official comes to Waris and says her friends bailed her out.  Because of the war in Somalia, Waris was granted 6 months amnesty.  Now all she has to do is extend her passport.  

Back to the present.  Waris is back on the streets of London.  She looks up and sees a huge billboard with her picture on it.  There is another board that is animated and show Waris in various poses.  She's so sad, however, that she doesn't really react to the advertisements.  She goes over to see Lucinda.  As usual, Lucinda is mad telling Waris that she has cost her thousands, thousands.  She says:  "But I will have it back.  Every penny. You will do every job I send your way, and you will not complain.  And you will do it before the immigration authorities send you back to your desert."

Waris owes Lucinda owes her 10,745 pounds.  Now what Waris needs is a work permit.  So Waris is going to marry Neil.  She warns him that she has no money.  He doesn't care.  Marilyn reminds him that he can't touch Waris. Fine.  They marry. Then Waris moves in with Neil.

Terry arrives and sends everyone out of the room except for some women.  He has her get nude and he takes her pictures.  She is very uncomfortable but gets through it.  After awhile, she can smile. 

Waris still has Harold's address. 

Things at home are not going well.  Neil is jealous of the attention she gets elsewhere and becomes mean and angry at times.  He says they all want her, but he has her. 

Immigration comes to check on them at 5 a.m. Neil takes advantage of the situation to grab a passionate kiss from Waris. When they leave, Waris is disgusted with Neil and wipes the kiss off her lips.  The next day she goes to Marily's work place and tells her that she is going to let them deport her.  She misses her mother and her brother.  Marilyn tries to calm her down saying she hasn't much more time to go with Neil.  Then she can divorce him and go on about her business. 

This time Waris sleeps in the bed with Neil.  He starts to grab her but she quickly objects.  Neil tells her that he loves her.  He begs her, but she goes back to the couch.  In the morning, he nags her about it again.  A letter comes for her.  It's the news that she can remain indefinitely.  She tells Neil thank you and gives him back his ring. He is stunned.

Waris now can fly to a modeling show.  She proudly walks down the cat walk.  She is definitely a looker, alright.

One day in New York Waris takes a taxi to the address for Harold.  She rings the bell, but there is no answer.  She waits in the hall.  She comes forward when Harold shows up, but she sees him with a woman that resembles her somewhat.  She says it was just a coincidence that she ran into him because she was here looking for a friend of hers.  She virtually bolts out the door. 

A woman journalist interviews Waris at the Waldorf Astoria.  She says she watched the BBC program on her life.  How was it meeting her mother again after an absence of 20 years?  And what was like on the day that changed her life?  Waris says that the day she met the famous photographer was not the day her life changed.  Waris says she doesn't want to do this anymore.  The journalist is shocked a bit.  Then Waris asks her if she tells her a story would she see that it was published?  The journalist hesitates for awhile, but finally says yes.  The day that changed her life was when she was just 3 years old. 

Flashback.  The night before the eventful day, she was given an extra portion of rice. She didn't know why.  Her mother walked her over to meet the woman who would circumcise her daughter.  Waris remembers that she screamed and screamed.  Her mother covered her mouth with her hands to muffle the sound.

Mother had to get back to her 12 children.  Waris's wound became infected and she developed a high fever.  Her clitoris was cut away as well as the inner and outer lips of the vulva.  Then the wound was sewn up.  Scars remain where the genitals once were.  When she was older, she went back to the place of her circumcision.  There was nothing left.  The birds had eaten what had remained.  Waris stops her story and leaves.  The journalist is too busy crying to say anything else to her. 

Back to the present.  Harold goes down to a bar to complain about the woman who showed up at his door unannounced, but who ran away when she saw his roommate.  He looks through a fashion magazine and finds the article about the tragedy of female circumcision.  He recognizes the girl and is reminded of her name which means Desert Flower.  Of course, no one believes his story. 

UN Headquarters, New York.  Waris is going to give a talk on female circumcision/mutilation.  Marilyn tells her that's it's time for her talk.  Waris gets a drink of water and then comes out.  Marilyn says she's been waiting for her for a half an hour.  Waris stops, laughs and tells her:  "I missed you.  I'm happy you're here." 

Harold comes walking into the UN building.  Marilyn thinks she knows the guy. 

Waris begins her speech.  She starts talking about circumcision.  On the night of the wedding, the husband takes a blade and cuts open the area before he forces himself into his bride.  As a result of the mutilation, women are sick physically and mentally for the rest of their lives.  Waris says she survived the circumcision but two of her sisters did not.  She speaks out for the abolishment of this terrible practice of circumcision.   

"130 million girls and women are affected worldwide.  Immigrants continue this tradition not only in Africa and Asia but also in Europe and the U.S.  Waris Dirie was the first woman to publicly discuss Female Genital Mutilation and succeeded at drawing attention to the issue.  United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, selected Waris Dirie as an UN-Special Ambassador to fight against this atrocity.  Since then, Female Genital Mutilation has been officially forbidden in many counties.  Despite this, the practice goes on until today.  6,000 girls are mutilated every day."


Good movie.  I loved the dialogue between the poor, immigrant girl Waris and the young saleswoman in the big department store.  It was sad, but it was funny at the same time.  I watched the scene several times.   This is both a sad movie and a happy movie; a discouraging movie but a hopeful one.  Female circumcision (or mutilation as some call it) is still a big problem in the world.  The Somali model Waris Dirie was the first to speak out publicly against the practice.  It's very moving to watch as Waris learns from her English friend that she is not as the British women are.  She has been cut up, but thought that's what it meant to be a woman.  Her friend pulls her pants down and shows her genitals to Waris and Waris is devastated realizing that the circumcision was completely unnecessary.  There are lots of very moving scenes in the film like this that make you feel so very bad about what millions of women still have to go through simply because they are women and don't have the political power to outlaw the practice.  I learned a lot of new things that I did not know about the practice of female mutilation and feel wiser for it.  This is a film that needed to be made and yet it still is a very entertaining film despite the political angle and the ugliness of the mutilation. 

Liya Kebede (as Waris Dirie) and Sally Hawkins (as Marylin) were really terrific in the film.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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