La Danza de Realidad
“I want to make cinema that loses money, cinema that forces me to look for work in other mediums. Filmaking for me is sacred. Films should have a purpose, to open our consciousness.”–Alejandro Jodorowsky
DIRECTED BY: Alejandro Jodorowsky
FEATURING: Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, Jeremias Herskovits, Alejandro Jodorowsky
PLOT: Alejandro Jodorowsky is born to Jewish Ukrainian parents in Tocopilla, Chile; his Communist father Jaime models his appearance on his idol Josef Stalin, and his mother Sara only communicates through operatic singing. Jaime decides he must assassinate Ibanez, the fascist dictator of Chile, and eventually becomes the tyrant’s trusted groomsman. Meanwhile, Sara teaches Alejandro religion and how to cope with being a Jewish outcast in a Latin nation with fascist sympathies, while Jaime is captured, tortured, and has a religious conversion before returning to his wife and family.
- Though clearly fantastical, many of the elements of The Dance of Reality are autobiographical. The film was shot in Tocopilla, Jodorowsky’s childhood home.
- This was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first feature film since 1990’s (relatively mainstream) flop The Rainbow Thief. He was 84 years old when Reality was completed.
- The documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune was indirectly responsible for Dance of Reality being made, because it put Jodorowsky in contact with his former producer Michael Seydoux, who put up a million dollars to get the project started.
- Brontis Jodorowsky is Alejandro’s son; he plays the director’s father in Dance of Reality. (In 1970’s El Topo, Brontis played the son of the mystical gunfighter played by Alejandro). Another of Jodorowsky’s sons, Adan, scored the music, and his wife, Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky, did the costumes.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Choosing a most memorable image from an Alejandro Jodorowsky movie is like choosing the most important note in a Beethoven symphony. We went with the image (from the film’s finale) that was also selected for the movie’s poster: young Alejandro, dressed in his bright red fireman’s uniform, strides across a dock lined with life-sized black and white cardboard cutouts of Tocapilla’s oddball inhabitants: a fat prostitute, an armless beggar, the tattooed Theosophist. Always one to acknowledge his own artifice, Jodorowsky makes sure that the stagehands are partially visible behind their character shields.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: If given his own way, Alejandro Jodorowsky will never make a normal or predictable movie. He certainly does not in this psychosurreal autobiography that features an ocean’s worth of sardines raining on Tocapilla’s shore, a fireman’s emblem that comes to life to suffocate its wearer, and a woman who cures her husband of the plague through her holy urine.
Original trailer for The Dance of Reality
COMMENTS: Mystical moviemaker Alejandro Jodorowsky has always held that cinema is sacred, and weirdophiles and midnight movie cultists have long worshiped at his shrine. Banished from filmmaking by the Pharisees of commerce, this prophet of the bizarre took up the life of a cinematic hermit, going for more than two decades without making a movie. Now he is back from exile, wiser and gentler, but with his skewed worldview intact. Given his track record for creating the unforgettable combined with his long absence from the screen, hopes for The Dance of Reality were stratospheric. Although the finished piece is much different than expected, it is clearly the work of the maestro, and arrives as far from a disappointment. The hallucinogenic excesses of 1970’s El Topo and 1973’s The Holy Mountain have been replaced with a mellower style that suggests Jodorowsky has moved away from the testicular filmmaking of his youth, and closer to the intellectual playfulness of late Luis Buñuel or Raoul Ruiz. This new, wiser Jodorowsky is wistful, less willfully obscure, and, most importantly, much funnier, while still maintaining the mad megalomania, bizarre visions and promiscuous spiritualism that make him a one-of-a-kind human being.
“Obvious” is never a word one would use to describe Jodorowsky’s symbolism, but compared to the occultic codes of his 1970s movies, The Dance of Reality is easily parsable. Of course, it helps to have some familiarity with Jodorowsky and his earlier films. Although it is one of his most accessible movies for newcomers, Reality will play best for fans, who will see in it commentary on the master’s earlier works. For example, we learn that Jodorowsky’s fascination with the amputees who often figure in his movies comes from the presence of limbless dynamite victims in his childhood village, who were abandoned by the mining company and took to begging in the streets. An early scene shows young Alejandro sharing an ice cream cone with an armless outcast, much to the chagrin of his father. The colorful clowns from Chilean carnivals clearly made quite an impression on the young man; the movie’s very first anecdote involves his father bare-knuckle boxing an effeminate circus clown dressed as a carrot. And Jodorowsky’s fascination with esoteric religion is traced through the appearance of a tarot card figure (the Queen of Cups) who lives in a shack by the sea, a half-naked tattooed “Theosophist” who teaches the young boy how to dance and meditate, the Jewish outsider’s romanticization of the Catholic traditions of his home country, a dogmatically atheist father, and a religious mother who encourages the boy to turn to God to replace the love he does not receive from his father.
Despite the movie’s genre as autobiography, it’s Alejandro’s father, not the writer, who becomes the main character. It is rare to see a filmmaker so brutally emotional about his own troubled relationship with his father, but Jodorowsky is psychoanalyzing himself on screen, in public. Given the relationship presented here, even (or especially) in this dreamlike, reality-fractured version, we can understand why Jodorowsky made “metageneology” a key concept in his “psychomagic” practice. You get no points for noticing that Jaime is metaphorically a tyrannical parent: in his dress and iron-grey mustache, he quite literally emulates dictator Josef Stalin, whose portrait hangs on the wall of the family home. Jaime is obsessed with toughening up his son; in one exercise to see how much pain the child will endure to receive his father’s approval, he slaps the boy repeatedly until he breaks a tooth, then bribes the dentist to complete the filling without anesthesia. The scenes in El Topo where the gunfighter forces his six-year old son to bury his first toy, then to euthanize a wounded villager, take on a new poignancy in light of Reality‘s revelations. Carrying the therapy one step further, Jodorowsky not only depicts his estranged father’s brutality, but he invents a completely fictional story arc, which occupies the second half of the film, as a redemption for Jaime. Because his father always wanted to assassinate the fascist dictator Ibanez, Jodorowsky uses the magic of film to send him off on that mission; of course, this is the son’s wish-fulfillment exercise, not the father’s, so that expedition does not go as expected.
Something else that’s unexpected in The Dance of Reality is the sense of humor about life Jodorowsky has developed since we last encountered him. Aside from the brief satirical sketches in Holy Mountain, the director’s grotesqueness has usually felt solemn and serious, spiritual sermons disguised as psychedelic trips. Despite its serious theme of authoritarianism, both political and familial, Reality is blatantly a comedy, imparting a bittersweet flavor that saves the movie from becoming merely a wallow in self-pity. In what other Jodorowsky movie would a dwarf be used for comic relief, rather than as a symbol of a stunted self or as an obscure occult reference? Here, Jaime has hired a little person to advertise his store, and his bizarre advertising skits (he acts out the slogan “death to high prices,” and performs Biblical miracles) are used as a running joke. Soprano Sara trills arpeggios rather than moaning during sex. Even his silliest jokes work, in their surreal context: Nazis crying like babies when they are defeated by kung fu. The consistent intent to amuse imparts a very different sensibility than the auteur’s “serious” films about mystical gunfighters and armless serial killers. Because the director’s visual imagination and boldness of vision are scarcely diluted, this gentler Jodorowsky makes for a delightful change of pace.
The Dance of Reality is certainly self-indulgent, but after the insane ups-and-downs of his career and the many irreplaceable dreams he has brought to life on film, Jodorowsky has earned the right to indulge himself. A big ego is not a flaw in a great artist. As El Topo, Jodorowsky claimed, “I am God”; but the black-clad outlaw was eventually unmasked as a theological fraud. Here, as himself in his own film universe, Jodorowsky is omnipotent: dressed in angelic white, he restrains his younger self from jumping to his death, telling him, “embrace your sufferings, for through them you will reach me.” Jodorowsky has again cast himself as the Almighty, but with the humility of age, he is now only God to himself. The idea of an old man traveling back in time to console a younger version of himself is touching. Even when his boyhood self has the long blond locks of a Disney princess, and the old man is wondering, “should I suffer the agony of the sardines?” After all, this is Jodorowsky.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“As purely personal a film as Jodorowsky has ever made, ‘Dance’ features no shortage of the bizarro imagery and willful atonalities that have long been his stock-in-trade, but it all seems to stem from a more sincere, coherent place this time than in the flamboyant head movies (‘El Topo,’ ‘The Holy Mountain’) that made him a star of the 1970s midnight movie scene.”–Soctt Foundas, Variety (contemporaneous)
“… a simple catalog of oddities would misrepresent the beauty and coherence of the film’s conception, as well as spoiling some surprises. Its blend of visual elegance and perversity recalls the work of Luis Buñuel, and also of Mr. Jodorowsky’s countryman Raúl Ruiz.”–A.O. Scott, The New York Times (contemporaneous)
“Octogenarian cult-movie maestro Alejandro Jodorowsky (‘El Topo,’ ‘Santa Sangre’) keeps it all fleet, funny and weird in ‘The Dance of Reality’… proof that the legendary provocateur is still a font of out-there invention.”–Robert Abele, The Los Angeles Times (contemporaneous)
OFFICIAL SITE: The Dance of Reality – The usual stills and trailers, a Jodorowsky bio, press notes, and links to buy the soundtrack and the film’s companion book
The Dance of Reality – Official Facebook page, for news updates, screenings, etc.
The Dance of Reality (@TheDanceReality) – Official Twitter feed
IMDB LINK: The Dance of Reality (2013)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Alejandro Jodorowsky Presents The Dance Of Reality (NSFW)– Jodorowsky delivers an introduction to the film – in French, in the nude
The Psychomagical Realism of Alejandro Jodorowsky – New York Times profile on the director’s career leading up to Dance of Reality
In “The Dance of Reality,” Alejandro Jodorowsky mixes fantasy with autobiography – The Miami Herald’s chief film critic, Rene Rodriguez, profiles and interviews Jodorowsky
Interview: Alejandro Jodorowsky on “The Dance of Reality” and the Healing Power of Art – Bilge Ebiri interviews Jodorowsky for RogerEbert.com
Alejandro Jodorowsky on Reality, Bad Dads and the Right Amount of Drugs – Another Jodo interview/retrospective, this one illustrated with lots of very cool .gifs from his movies
Brontis Jodorowsky on His Father’s New Film The Dance of Reality – The Miami New Times interviews the film’s star
The Dance of Reality: A Psychomagical Autobiography – Jodorowsky’s companion book to the film is both an autobiography and text on his personal psychoanalytical systems of “psychomagic” and “metageneology”
DVD INFO: The Abcko DVD (buy) looks and sounds fantastic, and comes with three featurettes: interviews with Alejandro, Brontis, and Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky. The Blu-ray (buy) is the same package in higher definition (and at the time of this writing was available for the same price as the DVD).