Alejandro Jodorowsky’s fantastic—and fantastical—new film (his first since 1990) is a dizzying, dazzling, eye-popping, phantasmagorical spectacle. But the legion of fans of the Chilean director’s work would expect nothing less.
Jodorowsky’s imaginative, inventive mix of daring and brilliance is on display in every frame of this episodic drama. He mixes ghosts, opera, sex, religion, and torture as well as circuses and dwarfs, nudity, and theosophists in equal measure. The result is a melancholic reflection on childhood, anguish, longing, politics, identity, memory, and masculinity.
The Dance of Reality is set in Tocopilla, Jodorowsky’s birthplace, and based on the filmmaker’s childhood. Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky, the director’s son) dresses like Stalin, and works in a lingerie shop with his wife Sara (Pamela Flores), who sings all of her dialogue in operatic soprano. They have a son, Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits), who is guided by a phantasm (Alejando Jodorowsky himself). Alejandro also encounters strange characters around town, including a man who lost his arms during a mining accident who asks for a back scratch, a woman known as the Queen of Cups who warns him about throwing stones into the ocean, and a theosophist who tries to educate him about religion and philosophy. However, Alejandro’s efforts to befriend some of these eccentric characters and establish an independent identity are thwarted by his father. Jaime insists that his son lose his “girly blonde hair” and “be a man” by withstanding tickling, slapping, and even having a dentist repair a tooth without anesthesia.
These early, often wondrous scenes alternate between magical realism, as when gulls swoop down on the beach to retrieve thousands of dead fish, and cruelty, such as Jaime’s particularly disturbing encounter with the limbless victims of mining accidents.
However, The Dance of Reality takes a strange, dramatic twist when Jaime goes off on a mission to assassinate General Carlos Ibàñez (Bastiàn Bodenhöfer), the dictator. This lengthy sequence, which involves Jaime becoming a horse groomer, starts out realistically and soon turns into full-throttle telenovia-style melodrama with big, exaggerated expressions and close-ups and over-emotive music. It’s amusing even if it forces the film to sag a bit.
Yet this episode sets up the last act of The Dance of Reality, a narrative in which Jaime, whose hands have become paralyzed tries to reunite with his family. In the process, Jaime meets a kindly carpenter, endures torture from the militia, and has a surrealistic fight with a Nazi troop.
Meanwhile, Sara coats her son in shoe polish and plays a game of hide-and-seek, which includes her walking naked through a bar to prove her invisibility. Her quasi-incestuous activity is explained in the film, and best left for viewers to discover.
The Dance of Reality can be read in so many ways that audiences will surely form their own interpretation of the events. It is at once a memory piece, an imaginative fantasy, and a meditation about sex, God/religion, death, and the universe, relatively speaking. Whatever one’s impression, The Dance of Reality is like all of Jodorowsky’s films: fabulous, and unforgettable.
The Dance of Reality opens today.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.