Desert Dancer

Found cavorting before an appreciative audience of grade-school classmates, Afshin Ghaffarian got a beating from his teacher, but also gained a secret mentor who turned him on to Nureyev and quoted Rumi. By 2009, Ghaffarian had formed a college dance troupe, in spite of the fact of that being illegal. Welcome to Iran, which, as Desert Dancer’s pre-opening disclaimer informs us, actually had a lot to offer before the 1979 Revolution turned it nasty. Graceless dramatization of Ghaffarian’s true story ensues, with writer Jon Croker and director Richard Raymond meaning well but miring in platitudes of moral superiority. This Iran, where everyone just goes ahead and speaks English so we don’t have to read subtitles, seems about as authentic as the Russia of Rocky IV. But it is a UK production, so there’s a bit of class after all. Downton Abbey’s Tom Cullen exudes warmth in a supporting role, and Reece Ritchie brings sincere intensity to the lead, abiding a mostly inert romance with Freida Pinto as a dance partner and tragic addict. Together, they transmute increasingly brutal run-ins with morality cops into semi-erotic modern choreography. We didn’t need a pseudo-Persian Footloose to imagine dance as a means of suppression resistance, but surely there’s no harm in drawing inspiration from Ghaffarian’s bravely creative life.