The Dance of Reality

Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky has directed only a handful of films in his long career and, if you have seen the documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” you would understand why. His first film in 23 years is about his reflections and memories as a young boy growing up in Chile during a time of political turmoil during the 1930s in “The Dance of Reality.”

Laura's Review: B

Following on the heels of "Jodorowsky's Dune," the documentary about a hugely influential film despite the fact that it was never made, 84 year-old writer-director Alejandro Jodorowsky ("El Topo," "Santa Sangre") returns to his home town of Tocopilla for his first film in 23 years. His autobiographical tale is reimagined as "The Dance of Reality." Indulgent, Felliniesque, funny, sad, philosophical, political, religious and some might even say incestuous, Jodorowsky's latest features the filmmaker as the compassionate guardian of his 8 year-old self (Jeremias Herskovits), the outcast son of Russian Jewish immigrants in a small Chilean seaside town. There young Alejandro faces his first challenge when the long blond curls his mother Sara (Pamela Flores) attributes to her ballet dancing father draw ridicule. His father Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky, "El Topo"), who so admires Stalin he dresses like him, will not abide weakness in any form from his son, and so marches the crying child off to have them shorn. After an initial rumination on money, consciousness and death, Jodorowsky declares life to be a web of pleasure and pain, a theme he returns to throughout his film. When his younger incarnation runs to the beach to vent his anger by throwing stones, The Queen of Cups (the town is comprised of a circus, a brothel, cripples and officials) warns him that with one stone he can kill all the fish in the sea. Sure enough, a tide of sardines is washed ashore, but the seagulls exult, a catch-22 for the young child, whose impulses are always charitable. But Jodorowsky gives over most of his 130 minute running time to his fantastical reminagining of his father, who becomes determined to kill Chili's president Carlos Ibáñes (Bastián Bodenhöfer, "The Summer of Flying Fish"). After brutalizing his child in the guise of making a man out of him, including forcing him to look at a burned corpse because 'God does not exist' and 'You die and you rot,' Jaime departs after not recognizing a miracle for what it was, but his journey will transform him (and Brontis ably traverses the arc). His traveling companion turns out to be an Anarchist (Adan Jodorowsky, "2 Days in Paris") who also wants to kill the president. Jaime relents, agreeing to help the man when he learns he is avenging the death of his father. Their chance arrives at a costume competition for dogs, but when the moment comes, Jaime finds himself ingratiated to his intended target and asks to become the man's horse groomer. Bucephalus is a magnificent white stallion, the only thing Ibáñes truly loves, and through the beast, Jaime hopes to get to the man. But events humble him, and he ends up on a pilgrimage of sorts that lead him back to the town on the edge of a desert. The film is full of splendid moments, magical and surreal. When Alejandro scratches the back of a miner who's lost his hands, Jaime runs the man off, only to be attacked by a band of limbless beggars. From "Freaks" we go to "The Red Shoes," as Alejandro's gift of the shoes he coveted to a bare-footed shoeshine boy results in tragedy (pleasure and pain, to be experienced later by Bucephalus). The Theosophist (Alex/Cristobal Jodorowsky, "Santa Sangre") gifts Alejandro with medals representing Judaism, Islam and Christianity, advising that they be melted down into one drop. Jaime tries to bring water to 300 plague ridden souls quarantined on the beach, but they eat his burros. When he returns home shaking in fever, his operatic wife (Flores, who has a beautiful voice, sings every line) saves him the same way Nicole Kidman rescued "The Paperboy." Tocopilla's anti-Semitism is turned on its head as a city priest hands the desperate Jaime a tarantula. But later he finds peace with a saintly carpenter, whose identity he protects from torturing Nazis (watch the subtitles as they march, a street dog gets 'Woofs!'). During Jaime's absence, when Alejandro becomes afraid of the dark, his mother paints their nude bodies with black shoe polish, a bizarre yet whimsical way to contrast her parenting style with her husband's. "The Dance of Reality" is a personal film, certainly, one that begins a bit arduously, but Jodorowsky's autobiographical magical realism is a visual expression of life lessons.

Robin's Review: B+

Having recently seen the fascinating documentary mentioned above, I was excited to about seeing “The Dance of Reality.” It is definitely not for the average filmgoer as the director jumbles history and time and marries drama with musical in telling us about his life as young Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits), the son of a Stalinist shopkeeper, Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky), and buxom mother, Sara (Pamela Flores, whose dialog is done entirely in operatic song). This is a stream of Jodorowsky consciousness film that is the broad canvas for a man who has a lot to say about his developmental years as a boy. “The Dance of Reality” is a surreal view of life in Chile during the 1930s seen through the eyes of the impressionable boy. It is a compilation of many bizarre scenes from the mind of the filmmaker: hundreds of pilgrims dressed in black with umbrellas raised as the trek across a bleak landscape; a giant, fish-carrying wave crashing by the town attracting hundreds of gulls; the president/dictator of Chile attending a dog fashion show. These are many more equally strange scenes. This is one for cinefiles like me and not the average customer of the local multiplex. I appreciate the theatricality of Jodorowsky and his imaginative and hallucinatory way of telling his story. He is definitely a man who follows his own path.