After over two decades away from the director’s chair, surrealist director Alejandro Jodorowsky delivers an autobiographical vignette filled with the dreamlike imagery that defines his style. For admirers of his previous work like El Topo, Holy Mountain, or Santa Sangre, The Dance of Reality will be a most welcome return that doesn’t disappoint. Indeed, the intervening years have refined Jodorowsky’s skills, even if they haven’t tempered his penchant for overt theatrics or provocative content.
In The Dance of Reality, Alejandro Jodorowsky himself plays a bit of a Greek Chorus, both opening and closing the film as well as showing up at various points. Instead of merely reacting to the action, though, he also shows up at difficult times to mentor his childhood self (Jeremias Herskkovits). The film begins as the journey of this young boy, who suffers both as the son of Jewish emigrants in authoritarian Chile as well as under the Stalinesque tyranny of his father Julio (played by Jodorowsky’s son Brontis).
As the film progresses, however, it becomes clear that The Dance of Reality is not necessarily the story of Jodorowsky himself, but rather of his father, who eventually embarks on a Homeric mission to rid the nation of General Ibáñez. Young Alejandro’s mother Sara (Pamela Flores, who speaks only in belting opera recitative) takes the job of protecting her son during the extended trials of his father. Over the course of this familial epic, the imagery can range from joyous to bizarre to grotesque, but it somehow makes things palatable that should be positively revolting.
There is a line in the film about the constantly alternating joys and despairs that make up human existence, and that dance is the structure around which the entire narrative is built. Moments of brightness are constantly balanced by moments of darkness. The compelling images, brilliant colors, and meaningful score are only part what makes this film worth the ticket. The compassion for the characters is felt in every frame, even when they are at their lowest moments.
There is an ultra-fine line between clever surrealism and pompous silliness, and Jodorowsky revels in dancing that line like a grizzly on a tightrope. Often, he lunges to either side of the rope, and many people will think he goes over, but the genuineness of his storytelling keeps both feet planted on the line. His tenacity to his artistic vision is rare indeed — he gets away with things that would never fly in the hands of other directors. More often than not, it is a fascinating thing to behold. If you missed the brief theatrical run of Jodorowsky’s Dune that played in San Diego a couple of months ago, make a point not to miss this one.
The Dance of Reality opens in San Diego on Friday, June 20 at Ken Cinemas.