SPAIN/ FRANCE/ CHILE
AKA LA DANZA DE LE REALIDAD
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 133 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
“The story of my life is a constant effort to expand the imagination and its limitations, to capture its therapeutic and transformative potential… An active imagination is the key to such a wide vision: it looks at life from angles that are not our own, imagining other levels of consciousness superior to our own.”
In the quiet coastal town of Tocopilla, Chile, live Jewish/Ukrainian immigrant Jaime Jodorowsky, his wife Sara,and his son Alejandrito. They run a shop called Casa Ukrania, but the place is struggling, many of its regular customers being driven away by fascist sympathisers and oddballs. Jaime is a communist who worships Stalin and treats his son with great severity because he thinks he’s not tough and masculine enough, while Sara is extremely religious and sings all of her words. The Wall Street Crash has badly affected the country and dictatorial president Carlos Ibáñez del Campo is exerting ever harsher control. Jaime joins an underground group of communists who decide to get rid of the nation’s cruel leader….
It’s been a frustrating period for fans of Alejandro Jodorowksy for quite some time now. He keeps on announcing new projects, and we get all excited, and then these projects fall apart, largely because, I think, it’s very hard to get really offbeat films off the ground compared to the 1960’s and the 1970’s, maybe even the 1980’s. It’s astonishing to look at what I feel was the most creative and adventurous decade for cinema, the 1970’s, and see what was given the green light back then, and it’s also very sad because, though of course fine films are still being made today, we live in a time when producers are concerned about the bottom line more than anything else and true originality is disappearing more and more from our screens. The Dance Of Reality was Jodorowksy’s first film in 23 years, and it still took two years to get a worldwide release. The man himself claimed he wanted to lose rather than make money in making and releasing the film, and it was in part made possible by online public funding. The 86 year old filmmaker has obviously felt rejuvenated by the experience and the mostly positive reception [if hardly commercial success] to the film, because the similarly funded direct sequel Endless Poetry is going to begin shooting soon, and I can hardly wait!
Yes, The Dance Of Reality shows that Jodorowsky most definitely hasn’t lost his weird and wonderful touch. It’s in some ways a gentler, more reflective work than the pictures that made his name, but still retains that enticing melding of surrealism, mysticism and spiritualism that prevented this director from ever gaining anything near to mainstream appeal but gained him an army of adoring fans. It’s actually an adaptation of a book by Jodorowsky of the same name, and is also a semi-autobiographical account of his troubled childhood in Chile, partly true to life, to the point that much of it was shot in the actual places where its events are supposed to be taking place, but also with a heavy dose of magic realism. Strange characters appear and strange events occur which can’t really have happened in real life but add considerable entertainment factor and meaning, some of it undoubtedly vague but that’s part of the fun of Jodorowksy’s films to his admirers – we may not ‘get’ everything, but our brain still assimilates it all in a certain way and we feel enhanced. I say all this, and yet I feel that The Dance Of Reality, if you ignore The Rainbow Thief where he was ‘controlled’ throughout production [Tusk seems to be impossible to see in any decent form so I don’t really count it for the time being], is probably Jodorowsky’s most approachable film, the work that, unless you maybe feel like taking some psychedelic drugs, would work best as a newcomer’s introduction to the man, and yet neither does it feel like Jodorowsky has compromised at all, and it’s still a Jodorowsky film through and through.
The man himself appears every now and again, usually behind young Alejandrito [who is, of course, basically young Alejandro himself] to utter words of sometimes cryptic wisdom, and he also introduces the film, talking actually rather meaningfully about money as coins fall around him and we go inside a Big Top to watch an odd circus performance. Jodorowsky’s wife and three sons were also all heavily involved with the film, and it’s his oldest son Brontis [who, hard to believe it, played Alejandro’s son in El Topo and is actually rather too old for his role in The Dance Of Reality] who really has the chief part. He’s a Stalin-obsessed communist who believes whole heartedly in the ‘tough love’ method. To ‘man up’ his son, he punches him repeatedly then, after knocking a tooth out, takes him to the dentist and forbids him to have anything that might alleviate the pain in a profoundly upsetting sequence. He’s not even very nice to his wife, demanding this and that including sex, so it’s small wonder that she’s taken to speaking in operatic-style song. The scenes between husband and wife are so wonderfully odd but work really well because of the unusual dynamic and contrasting performing styles, though for much of the first half, the focus is on the boy, who feels isolated from everyone except a weird mystic who lives in a cave and who, if he actually existed,was obviously the person who first pointed Jodorowksy in the direction of the philosophical and the spiritual. One meaningful scene has him give the boy a Christian cross, a Muslim crescent and moon, and a Jewish star of David, and ask him to melt them together and make a necklace out of them, because they’re all the same God.
There’s an elaborate fantasy sequence early on where the boy throws stones into the sea and causes a tidal wave and lots of fish to wash up onto the beach, which in turn causes hundreds of seagulls to come and feed. I’ve read some criticism of the CGI in this film, but considering the small budget it’s not bad really and the afore mentioned seagull bit looks like it was done more with simple back projection. The film is nonetheless pure magic for its first half, reminiscent of later Federico Fellini in some respects but none the worst for that. Plotwise it’s little more than a series of vignettes, but it’s constantly enjoyable and surprising even if the fan will smile at some of the usual Jodorowksy interests like people with no hands [there’s a whole group of crippled ex-soldiers here], little people [there’s a hilarious guy whose job seems to be to entice customers into the Jodorowksy shop, which he tries to do by dressing up in successively bizarre outfits], outcasts in general, naked people, blood, and religious symbolism. There are even variations on some scenes in earlier films, like donkeys taking the place of that poor elephant who got torn to bits in Santa Sangre. Childhood is largely portrayed as a series of choices, from religion vs atheism to charity vs meanness. However, the movie changes its tone somewhat when Jaime sets out to kill the repressive President and goes through a journey which mirrors the one undergone in El Topo. It becomes far slower paced and, for a while, even a little more realistic, though don’t worry, back home, Alejandrito is soon being shown how to become invisible. And it soon becomes obvious that the director is, in a way, trying to go back in time, and change his real father to a better person, and to make peace with him.
So The Dance Of Reality is not just a fantastical autobiography, it’s kind of an exorcism of unresolved issues between Jodorowsky and his father, which gives it some considerable emotional weight. Every now and again the man still likes to shock – watch out for an especially nasty torture scene and a urinating scene – but his new film is generally a less aggressive, gentler experience than you may expect. There’s a lovely scene where Jaime, who up to now has been quite a nasty piece of work, and has got himself hired as Ibanez’s groom, befriends the Presidents’ horse. As the human and the animal bond [and, by the way, no….there’s no mass animal killing in this particular Jodorowsky film], Jaime feels happy and free for the first time, and a wonderful feeling emits from the screen, like a breath of fresh air. The Dance Of Reality is still full of symbolism and things where actual meanings are hard to discern, but there’s also much in it that’s really quite easy for the viewer to assimilate as long as he or she is prepared to do just a little work. The filming style is also more relaxed – no shock cuts here, for example – while the score by Adan Jodorowsky [another son] gives us several pleasant themes of a nostalgic, yet slightly playful, tone.
The Dance Of Reality was shot digitally, and in this particular instance it’s patently obvious, though the film still manages to be a pleasing visual experience, full of rich colours and excellently composed shots. Jeremias Herskovits is very touching as Alejandrito, though elsewhere the performances tend to be either very broad or just awkward, while there are times when the budget doesn’t seem like it was high enough for Jodorowksy’s vision to be fully realised. The film is still a major artistic success, a reassurance that Jodorowsky’s still ‘got it’ and a reassurance that, in this day and age, films like it are still able to get made, and seen, and appreciated. Crammed with indelible imagery, highly thought provoking, and actually rather beautiful, The Dance Of Reality is a work of immense richness. Welcome back Genius Alejandro.