Dance of Reality, The (2013)

Review #1,357

Director:  Alejandro Jodorowsky
Cast:   Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, Jeremias Herskovits
Plot:  Alejandro Jodorowsky was born in 1929 in Tocopilla, a coastal town on the edge of the Chilean desert where this film was shot.  It was there that Jodorowsky underwent an unhappy and alienated childhood as part of an uprooted family.

Genre:  Biography / Drama / Fantasy
Awards:  Official Selection (Cannes)
Runtime:  133min
Rating:  R21 for nudity and violence
International Sales:  Pathe International

“You and I, have only been memories, never reality.  Something is dreaming us, surrender yourself to illusion.”

Absent from filmmaking for more than twenty years, and sorely missed, director Alejandro Jodorowsky made an unexpected comeback at the grand age of 84 with The Dance of Reality, the first of five biographical pictures he plans to make—his latest, Endless Poetry (2016), is already out in the festival circuit. 

Back in his groove again, The Dance of Reality is a welcome, belated return to the director’s unique filmmaking style, suffused with loads of surrealistic flourishes, and what he terms as “psychomagic”.   Indeed the film deals with both psychology, in the form of trauma and memory, and magic, as things miraculously (or phantasmagorically) appear or disappear.

Jodorowsky appears in the film occasionally as a kindred spirit, a sort of guardian angel to his much younger self—a little boy who enjoys his mother's warmth, but has a love-hate relationship with his single-minded father (intriguing played by the director’s son Brontis Jodorowsky).  The bulk of the film centers on the father-son dynamic against the historical backdrop of the rule of Chilean dictator Carlos Ibáñez del Campo. 

The setting is the 1930s, and through the film’s flamboyant use of colour and an overly aestheticized art direction—one that could rival Wes Anderson's—The Dance of Reality is an imaginative work that dazzles in its stage-like artifice, by turns a self-indulgent portraiture of Jodorowsky's own unhappy childhood, and a fantasy willed by an artist who tries to come to terms with alienation through a kind of screen psychosis. 

Like Endless Poetry, there’s a carnival-like triviality to the proceedings that allude to his father’s relationship with the circus.  Jodorowsky also dreams up of scenes that straddles into politics.  The second half of the film centers largely on his father’s story, a tale that couples a devious plan of political assassination with existential struggle, which is bizarre and seemingly fictional to say the least. 

Jodorowsky’s screen mother, a character who physically reminds me of the large-breasted woman who titillated young boys in Fellini’s Amarcord (1973), doesn’t speak, but sings.  And in three of the most provocative scenes in the film, actress Pamela Flores, who plays her, is so at ease with her full, no-holds-barred nudity (one with her screen son no less), that I’m sure Jodorowsky was up to some Oedipus-al mischief when he wrote the screenplay. 

Verdict:  Jodorowsky’s return to filmmaking after 23 years is a dazzling, self-indulgent portrait of his childhood under the surrealistic veil of psychomagic. 


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