What could have been a magnificent story of fortitude, besting the most stringent, violent, suppression of light, spirit, evaporates, uncomfortably, into the meandering and melodramatic; loosely based on the true narrative of “Afshin Ghaffarian” (poignantly portrayed by Reece Ritchie), an Iranian dancer forced to camouflage his formation of a dance troupe, hiding from Iran’s “morality police”; it is 2009 and the frenetic fever of the “supposed” election is at its peak; anyone opposed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection is beaten, threatened, maniacally intimidated; igniting the rebellion of the mostly millennials, coined the “Green Revolution”. The crazed cacophony and brutality of the street scenes are arrestingly real, adding legitimacy and intelligence to “Desert Dancer”.
Lithesome, lovely Frieda Pinto, “Elaheh ”; exquisitely talented, trained by her mother who was forced to retire from the Ballet after the revolution deposed the Shah; the Ayatollah outlawed any medium of creativity; squelching (unsuccessfully) music, dance, song; Elaheh and Afshin, partner, gifting audiences the main reason to visit the film; the sandy dance; a few intrepid admirers watch as the couple, without touching, sinuously, sensationally, erotically spin a scenario of frustrated, maligned entrapment in a society where talent is shunned, stifled, pulverized by those in control.
“Desert Dancer” looses it momentum and focus with a lengthy passage on Elaheh’s substance abuse; understandable affliction in the fear-embossed world of Iran; diluting the potency of the plot.
In a Western universe, where freedom runs rampant and creativity is cultivated, it is impossible not to empathize with those who share one’s aesthetic; the few who triumph, escape, flee a crippling warped theocracy, deserve the lionization that they have valiantly earned.
TWO & 1/2 STARS!!