The Dance of Reality
Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
This is cult surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first film in 24 years, but those expecting that epic gestation period to have finally yielded a cosmic opus—like the unrealized project at the heart of recent documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune—will be disappointed: Dance instead stands in a tradition of oneiric autobiographical art films such as The Mirror and especially Amarcord in its blending of feverish childhood memory and mythopolitical critique. As such, the film admirably succeeds, though you miss the desert-of-the-mind psychodrama that made Jodorowsky’s signature works (El Topo, The Holy Mountain) so singularly delirious.
Despite some ham-handed metaphors (townspeople extras donning featureless masks) and contrived whimsy (a mystical guru named the Theosophist), the first half of Dance poignantly depicts the contentious relationship between sensitive prepubescent Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) and his overbearing father Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky, the director’s son—Jodorowsky himself intermittently plays onscreen narrator/spiritual guide). The action takes place in the small port city of Tocopilla during Chile’s Ibáñez dictatorship, and this backdrop —as seen through Alejandro’s hyperbolic imagination—fosters complex connections between the rising tide of totalitarianism, classism, and anti-Semitism and the intimate brutalities of family life.
Whereas the central domestic unit of Fellini’s Amarcord provided unambiguous comic relief from the reign of Mussolini, Dance depicts the home as both safe haven from and continuation of the terrifying outside world. On the one hand, young Jodorowsky’s big-bosomed, constantly singing mother (Pamela Flores) protects her son from local bigots and bullies with nurturing lessons in spiritual magic; on the other, Jaime’s socialist allegiances and selfless acts of charity are undermined by a penchant for disciplining his son through violent, emotion-suppressing manhood rituals.
Jaime’s plan to kill Ibáñez by becoming a horse handler initially appears a silly digression, but it actually begins a second act that charts papá Jodorowsky’s own rite of passage from small-scale Stalin (whom he resembles) to humbled martyr. It’s here that Dance shifts from magical realist bildungsroman to tragicomic morality play with surprisingly powerful results. Making an absurdist’s sense of the sins of the father, Jodorowsky redeems his past and restores hope for the future—a truly cosmic trajectory after all.
Opens May 23 at the Sunshine