The Dance Of Reality


Reviewed by: David Graham

"Brontis really does steal the show, offering a multi-layered, sensitive performance that begs the question why we haven't seen more of him over the years."

After an extended sabbatical from film-making, Alejandro Jodorowsky makes a triumphant return to the silver screen, the 86-year-old returning to his Chilean childhood for an autobiographical picture like no other. As with all his major works it’s maddening but magical, as delightful as it is draining, containing more imagination-per-frame than even supposed visual masters like Tim Burton can muster. Anchored by excellent performances from El Topo’s son himself Brontis Jodorowsky and Pamela Flores as the director’s parents, with newcomer Jeremías Herskovits as the young Alejandro, it’s a fabulous trip that enriches and reflects upon his previous work – mirroring Santa Sangre in particular – while offering the uninitiated a fantastic entry point to his oeuvre.

Alejandro is enduring a volatile childhood in remote coastal town Tocopilla, under a Stalin-worshipping fascist father who frequently abuses his opera-obsessed mother and him. Victimised for his luscious blond locks and surrounded by all sorts of depravity, the child develops a skewed worldview woven from a sense of both man’s inhumanity to man and truth being stranger than fiction. Soon his father’s mania leads him away from home on a would-be revolutionary mission, leaving the mother and son the chance to reconnect; the family's eventual reunion could create catharsis or spell disaster.

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The Dance Of Reality comes closer than Jodorowsky's other epics to exhausting his well of ideas - as well as the audience - but at a breathless two hours, it stops just short of indulgence and repetition. As its title suggests, it's not as dark or surreal as some of his other work, but he still doesn't pull punches when it comes to making political statements, from tackling the horrific legacy of his country's cast-aside miners to depicting the increasing paranoia that inevitably swells under fascist beliefs. That Jodorowsky manages to sprinkle in so many moments of joy and defiance highlights what a vital film-maker he remains, and his refusal to come down on anyone - even his father - shows how mature and worldly wise he has become.

Technically, it all feels a little cheaper than his previous avant-garde flicks - an early flock of seagulls almost recalls Birdemic's pixelated horrors - but Jodorowsky's eye for a memorable image and pithy gesture remains, from a practically gynaecological scene of charitable urination - putting Lee Daniels' Paperboy antics to shame - to the various mime routines that crop up throughout, often performed by his sons Adan and Axel (stars of Santa Sangre). As a director he remains charmingly committed to the theatrical throughout, from Herskovits' hilariously unrealistic golden wig to Flores' lung-busting delivery, which comes with an added layer of pathos given the real Mrs Jodorowsky's shattered dreams of becoming a professional singer.

Narrating his journey into the past and even appearing on-screen as if to retroactively protect - or hide behind - his youthful alter-ego, Jodorowsky has a voice that comes across more clearly than ever, his poetically secular mix of the divine and the dirty proving just as invigorating in his advanced old age. That the other characters come across as real, sympathetic people only betrays the honesty and heartfelt non-judgement with which he renders his childhood, and if there's one major flaw it's actually that he himself gets lost in the shuffle between the others at times. For all that though, Brontis really does steal the show, offering a multi-layered, sensitive performance that begs the question why we haven't seen more of him over the years.

With a rich score and lush cinematography adding even more to its cavalcade of indelible moments, The Dance Of Reality is ultimately a brilliantly self-reflexive vehicle for a truly unique artist. Newcomers and fans alike will find plenty to savour; it's such an absorbing experience that it almost demands repeat viewings. By returning to his roots, Jodorowsky seems to have found his mojo again, so here's hoping it leads to him getting the funding to make the full-on psychedelic sequel to El Topo he's been teasing us with for years.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2014
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The director looks back at his childhood in Chile.
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Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Writer: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, Axel Jodorowsky, Adan Jodorowsky

Year: 2013

Runtime: 133 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Chile

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