Genre: Biography, Drama, Fantasy
Directed by: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Starring: Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, Jeremias Herskovits, Alejandro Jodorowsky
The Dance of Reality, avant-garde auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first film in 23 years, opens to the rhythmic beat of Benny Goodman’s ‘Sing Sing Sing’. It’s an engaging and exciting opening number, effortlessly enticing the audience back in to the director’s world of surrealist metaphor and mythology. Even those left utterly bewildered by the detrimental density of his 70s cult classics El Topo and The Holy Mountain, are likely to find themselves willing to put their best foot forward as the Dance commences.
Taking his cue from Fellini, Jodorowsky presents a deeply personal semi-autobiographical account of his own upbringing that’s infused with music and mysticism. We meet young Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) living an alienated childhood in Tocopilla, a coastal town on the edge of the Chilean desert. His father Jamie (Brontis Jodorowsky, son of the real Alejandro) is an aggressive patriarch and staunch supporter of Stalin, while his mother Sara (Pamela Flores), by contrast, is a sweet and nurturing if damaged soul. Guided by the spirit of his older self, who reflects upon the philosophical beliefs that will shape his existence, young Alejandro attempts to find his own place in the world.
The title is almost literal, Jodorowsky’s screenplay dancing an operatic Hokey Cokey with reality. The director’s vision is full of his trademark invention and imagination; the vivid visuals burst with bizarre spirituality and blasphemous symbolism.
What truly captures your mind though, and allows The Dance of Reality to be one of Jodorowsky’s most accessible films to date, is its air of authenticity. Though many of the characters have traits that make them larger than life – Jamie’s destructive nature is overly dramatic, Sara delivers all of her speech, quite amusingly, through shrill falsetto – there’s an emotional complexity and organic quality to their personalities that make the characterisations honest, and instil the drama with a profound sensitivity.
Inevitably, Jodorowsky’s ideas do eventually get the better of him. And much of the fascination conjured during the strong first hour, which, with its various references to Stalin and anti-semitism, also allows the film to act as a thoughtful political commentary from a period in history, is weakened by the frustratingly unfocused second.
It’s impossible not to be swept up by Jodorowsky the storyteller though. Even after more than two decades away from the screen, he has easily been able to find his footing. Now that’s a reality worth dancing about.