Film Review: The Dance of Reality

Dance of Reality

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.

5 thoughts on “Film Review: The Dance of Reality”

  1. Just an addendum. The film contains one huge historical inaccuracy in that NO CP at the time (1929, 1930) would have been “pro-gay” or even sympathetic to homosexuals as one long-haired (another inaccuracy?) communist character proclaims in the movie.

  2. Apparently there is more interest in Jodorowsky OUTSIDE of San Diego as I saw a long line for JODOROWSKY’S DUNE back in April and Wednesday’s single-night showing of DANCE OF REALITY had all two of three screenings sold out at Tijuana’s Cultural Center.

    What starts off as a high production value, quirky semi-bio with fantasy elements, falls apart in the second half with Jodorowsky’s excess and pacing. (I guess it is one thing to have son Brontis in the nude as a child back in 1971 but quite another directing his own son as an adult, also nude.) Additionally, any film that features minors acting scenes with adult nudity, is borderline abuse, I would say, whether it be in the USA or Chile. I didn’t see a “disclaimer” as I did with the donkey scene, so the viewer is left in doubt.

    The film lacks the 70’s energy and barrier=breaking approach of EL TOPO and THE HOLY MOUNTAIN. Martin Scorese says somewhere, that the opening scene of the bald prostitute beating her pimp in Sam Fuller’s NAKED KISS is the best opening of all time. I would say the opening scene of HOLY MOUNTAIN, 1973, is visually, (Kubrick, Tarkovsky & CGI included), the most stunning I have ever seen in ANY film. Watching DANCE OF REALITY, reminded me instead of Tarsen’s dreary, wanna be eccentric, THE FALL.

    On a more positive note, I congratulate Mr. Jodorowsky for being along with Clint Eastwood, the oldest working filmmakers today, both of which are in their mid-80s.

  3. Hello Sal!

    Based on the interviews I have seen and read, he would like to release both TUSK and RAINBOW THIEF in a director’s cut version. Apparently, there is some conflict with producers and writers of those films, but of course I have only picked up on Jodorowsky’s side of the story. I would not be surprised if those versions were somewhat colored by his own interpretations of the events. Hopefully they will be officially available in the near future.

    While he has matured cinematically in some ways, there is definitely still the feeling of a child in a playpen with some of his imagery. It is something to see, but some of it still feels a tad immature or overblown in terms of overt symbolism. I still think Jodorowsky’s saving grace is in his naive sincerity, or at least that’s the feeling I get.

    Regarding the meager San Diego turnout for the documentary, I’m afraid that is not surprising. There were only 12 people at the Hillcrest when I saw it. I was able to interview the producer on my podcast here, if you are interested:

  4. Will TUSK ever see the light of day in DVD or did Jodorowsky himself throw it in the cellar like a red-headed stepchild???

    It will be interesting to see how Mr. Jodorowsky has matured, not physically, but cinematically.

    Frank Pavich’s documentary JODOROWSKY’s DUNE, had a mediocre turnout here, but up at Cinefamily in Hollywood, there were long lines.

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