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Desert Dancer by Benjamin Wallfisch (Review)

posted Apr 1, 2015, 9:26 PM by Kaya Savas

Many people take certain liberties for granted. As a species, we have some wonderful cultural forms of expression that are unique to us. Desert Dancer follows the story of real-life dancer Afshin Ghaffarian and his quest to express his freedom and start an underground dance movement amidst the political turmoil of Iran in 2009. Dancing in Iran is against the law. As recently as last September, a group of people were arrested in Iran for creating an homage video to Pharrell’s "Happy". Islamic law prohibits dancing with members of the opposite sex and women from appearing without a headscarf. So if convicted one could potentially spend a year in prison and up to 90 lashes. Yes, this was 2014. Just a few months ago. The film Desert Dancer comes at a welcomed time, as not only is it a human story but a statement of artistic freedom against the oppressing laws of government run by religion. The simply amazing Benjamin Wallfisch provides a deeply resonating score that echoes the film’s themes of yearning for creative and spiritual freedom.

Desert Dancer, with all its great intentions, will tread into melodramatic territory. Very much like Wallfisch’s other recent score to Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain. What Wallfisch does though is make sure his music isn’t the melodramatic factor, and with great talent he succeeds in crafting a deeply emotional score. By having the score remain relatively slow and somber, the emotions swell from a lower starting point. So, as the arcs grow we can work to these amazingly elegant swells. The reflection of character is also very strong, as we open with our protagonist’s main theme. The score is unique in that the music is not accompanying the dancing directly. There is one cue where Wallfisch goes to town with some amazing percussion for the track “Desert Dancer”, and that track is clearly meant to accompany a scene featuring dancing. But overall, this is a score meant to create this somber yearning for freedom. The music feels as if it has grown up in a world of oppression, it feels like it wants to be bigger and more open. Wallfisch opens it up towards the end so that in a sense we finally move from the shadows to the feel the warmth of the sun shining on our faces. All in all, it’s such a rich and moving experience.

Desert Dancer is more proof (if you actually needed it) that Benjamin Wallfisch is a supreme talent with musical storytelling. When you listen to his scores, you can truly tell that this man has found his calling card in life. He is meant to write film music. I really hope he gets the opportunities he deserves, because I would love to see him compose something in the realm of Out Of Africa. He has that raw talent and emotional understanding that connects us as listeners to the story. I’m not saying he’s the next John Barry… yet. But his subtle approach for something like Desert Dancer shows that he deserves big canvasses to work on. Desert Dancer is another fine notch on his filmography, and is truly a uniquely resonating score. It’s one of the best he’s had to offer in his still early career as a composer.