Desert Dancer




Afshin Ghaffarian grew up in Iran where it was forbidden to dance, but his dreams inspired 
him to defy the ban.


Desert Dancer


This deeply sincere film tells the true story of a young Iranian who as a teenager acquired a DVD of Dirty Dancing and was captivated by the rhythms he heard. Indeed, this youth, Afshin Ghaffarian, was so stirred by the music that he attended an arts centre where, in defiance of the ban on dancing, the leading tutor secretly created what in this world could almost be thought of as a parallel universe. Nureyev seen there on YouTube was a major influence on Afshin.

By 2009 when Afshin was at university in Tehran he made friends with other pupils possessed of a rebellious streak and with them he set up his own secret dance group. Starting out in a rented space they soon found that too restrictive and began to perform in the desert at spots not disclosed in advance for fear of the authorities. But all this is told in flashback so that we know from the start that Afshin will eventually fall into the hands of the police and, indeed, he is lucky to escape with his life and subsequently to be able to claim asylum in France. Once there he uses dance in its most radical form to express the state of affairs back in Iran.

Even without the inclusion of a love story involving Afshin and fellow dancer Elaheh whose fears have driven her to take drugs, this would be rich material and it is very engagingly played: Reece Ritchie makes a very sympathetic Afshin, Tom Cullen is authoritative as his friend Ardi and Freida Pinto as Elaheh proves once again how the camera loves her. But the film does have problems including the fact that, as the casting indicates, all of the characters unrealistically speak English. It’s also the case that the early scenes seem aimed at children in the manner of Billy Eliot while some of the dancing, with music not always having a clear source, suggests a choreographed musical. One gathers that this is a free adaptation of what actually happened even if we do see the real Afshin at the close and the finale in Paris does seem to be played up for the camera. Consequently we have here a film somewhat uneven in tone and one which for authenticity ought to be a subtitled foreign language work. Nevertheless, its heart is so obviously in the right place that this debut feature from director Richard Raymond should give a lot of pleasure.




Cast: Freida Pinto, Reece Ritchie, Tom Cullen, Marama Corlett, Bamshad Abedi-Amin, Neet Mohan, Nazanin Boniadi, Simon Kassianides, Davood Ghadami, Gabriel Senior, Makram J. Khoury.


Dir Richard Raymond, Pro Pippa Cross, Fabiola Beracasa, Izabella Miko and Luis Astorquia, Screenplay Jon Croker based on the life story of Afshin Ghaffarian, Ph Carlos Catalan, Pro Des Shahram Karimi, Ed Chris Gill and Celia Haining, Music Benjamin Wallfisch, Costumes Louise Stjernsward.


Relativity Media/May 13 Films/Rostik Investment Group/Greene Light Films etc.-Metrodome Distribution Limited.
104 mins. UK/USA/Russia/Spain. 2014. Rel: 22 April 2016. Cert. 15.