Alejandro Jodorowsky is Dreaming Us In ‘The Dance Of Reality’
Co-authored by Romana Machado and Ron Garmon
Alejandro Jodorowsky ’s first new film in twenty-four years is an intensely painful, awkward yet gorgeous, sumptuously spiritual film. The famed director of El Topo and The Holy Mountain returns to us as a man half as old as time and nowhere near as ready to move on. Profane, torturous, wildly funny, frighteningly innovative yet as sentimental as e-card, The Dance of Reality is only incidentally the great surrealist’s memoir of childhood; the real theme of the movie is how the filmmaker (and by extension, each of us) invents a bearable past.
“Something is dreaming us. Embrace the illusion. Live!” Jodorowsky the time traveler whispers, holding his younger self back from suicide on the rock cliffs near Tocopilla, Chile. Joy and suffering are shown to depend on each other, forming a grand, fleshy, holistic, ravishing union. Young Alejandro worships his mother, a sorceress whose every utterance is operatic song, who can cast spells of invisibility and make stones float on air. She cures his fear of the dark by covering him in shoe polish, telling him he had incorporated the power of darkness and so the darkness became his kingdom.
His father, a cruel and bumbling Stalinist, is eventually redeemed by a crippling quest to destroy the dictator Ibanez. The movie unfolds as dreams do, the focus veering and wavering between strings of overloaded anecdotes and half-told tales, attractive and repellent by dizzying turns. There is much nudity, profanity, abuse, and torture, but that’s life.
In a cinema landscape dominated by superheroes and zombie apocalypses, surrealism as such seems downright quaint and Jodorowsky knows this. Images like red shoes that kill, showers of dead sardines and throngs of walking dead plague victims are what moviemakers have been trying to get on the screen since of the beginning of film. Head-spinning gosh-wow visuals carry the story forward, followed on by fond yearning and ghastly nostalgia.
This seems to be a season for late statements from last survivors of old New Wave cinema. Ken Loach and Mike Leigh bobbed up at Cannes and the new Henry Jaglom movie is playing a few blocks down Santa Monica boulevard from the Nuart, where The Dance of Reality is playing this week. Indeed, Jodorowsky’s Dune, a head-spinning documentary on the filmmaker’s aborted mid-Seventies adaptation of Frank Herbert’s SF classic, just finished a run at the Cinefamily. Review after review cites the outsized influence of this unproduced masterpiece, but this latest film makes certain Jodorowsky avoids premature embalming as one of world cinema’s great might-have-beens.