It’s been more than two decades since audiences last got to see a new film from visionary Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, with Frank Pavich’s documentary on an abandoned sci-fi epic – Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) – looking like being the closet they might get. Now comes The Dance of Reality (2013), an absurdist dreamscape of a biopic that begins with the director himself addressing the camera extolling the the life-giving power of money; presumably by way of an explanation for his twenty-five year absence and its abrupt end. While still a carnival of politics and sex, in keeping with his most famous work, it’s significantly more sincere story of myth and memory.
The edges of his provocation have been rounded and wilful obfuscation is less of a hurdle than viewers may have had to leap in the past; though this may not be surprising for a film that purports to tell of his family history. Of course, that history is distilled through the filter of Jodorowsky’s own stylistic and lyrical predilections with logic cast into the wind and the lines between past and present blurred into oblivion. His mother is recalled as a voluptuous beauty whose every utterance is delivered in actress Pamela Flores’ surging soprano, but she considers her tender young ‘Alejandrito’ (Jeremias Herskovits) to be a reincarnation of her own father and their relationship veers between icy and erotic.
This intentional confusion between generations is complicated further still by the fact that Jodorowsky’s father, Jaime, is played by his real-life son, Brontis. This speaks to the evident intimacy of The Dance of Reality which is perhaps Jodorowsky using his signature oddity to revise the story of his father and their relationship. Portrayed as a tyrannical patriarch during the film’s first half, in which he capriciously tortures his young effete son, he later undergoes a spiritual coming-of-age akin to the director’s previous protagonists. He comes to understand notions of heroism, humility, love, tenderness and selflessness through a series of bizarre, often hilarious escapades. Religion and politics cover the Chilean landscape around their little hometown of Tocopilla – from a humble carpenter making chairs for the local church and a Nazi regiment rolling into town or a plot to assassinate the Chilean president thwarted by the love of a prize stallion.
In an attempt to come to terms with his father, Jodorowsky allows him a fictional opportunity to find himself and when the Herskovits beams at the thought of his dad coming home, it’s a touching resolution both inside and outside the film. The director himself breaks down those boundaries by intermittently stepping into frame as an ethereal spectre of the future narrating his childhood and sometimes consoling a tearful Alejandro – at one point he even appears to prevent his own suicide. This is a film perhaps over-stuffed with ideas, Jean-Marie Dreujou doing his best to service them behind the camera, although the limited budget does mean digital photography which never quite marries with the hypnopompic milieu. Still, The Dance of Reality is a rich and expressive new offering from a man who has always tried to sculpt something resembling cinematic poetry, whatever that might look like.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson