Well, this will be an interesting one…
One of the main reasons for my great appreciation and praise for Jodorowsky’s Dune was something I didn’t want to spoil in the review; the fact that coming together to make that documentary rekindled the creative spark in both Alejandro Jodorowsky and his Producer Michael Seydoux to make the director’s first film in 23 years that debuted just last year. That movie is The Dance of Reality, and is a welcomed return to form for the famously eccentric and esoteric filmmaker after a more than two decades hiatus. The film is from the first scene onward undeniably a work from the wonderfully warped mind of Jodorowsky. If you’ve seen any of the man’s pervious works, i.e. El Topo and The Holy Mountain,the strange oddball characters, drastic tonal shifts and colorful cinematography are all distinct trademarks of the man’s unique and distinguished filmography.
In his latest work, it is a deeply personal affair for the filmmaker, as he centers the narrative on his fictionalized upbringing in 1940’s Chile with his Stalin-worshipping stern father and Jewish opera-singing-every-line mother. Needless to say he paints his childhood as uniquely as with his other stories in films. His father, Brontis Jodorowsky, wants him to be a strong man of worth, his mother, Pamela Flores, wants him to be happy and carry on her family’s legacy, it’s an emotional tug-of-war for the young Alejandro as he discovers the very different perspectives his parents have. The pitfalls, lessons and understanding for Alejandro as he explores this strange world around is one of sheer inspiration and creative vision.
It is pretty obvious by the film’s end that Jodorowsky conceived this project to be a reconciliation with his troubled childhood and especially with his father. Art has always been an expression of some sort of therapy for their creators, acts of coming to gripes with their troubled pasts. As demonstrated in the surprisingly touching Saving Mr. Banks last year, we can change the past in our own perceptions and minds, to make them more bearable and understandable. Not to say all creative expression has to come from dark places and traumatic experiences, but art is empathy and understanding the ups and downs of life’s struggles has always been a powerful motive for many.
All the regular tropes and stylistic choices from the filmmaker’s bag-of-tricks are apparent from frame one. The art-direction, hilariously outrageous situations, religious imagery, characterizations and tonal shifts. As usual Jodorowsky is throwing a lot on-screen at his audience in hopes that they’ll be along for the ride. Perhaps even figuring out the method to all the cinematic madness, one could discover the waltz or dance through the trials and tribulations of growing-up, or in fact come to the conclusion that there is no method at all.
Rest easily that unlike with other artists and filmmaker’s melancholic and brooding efforts to come to gripes with their own troubled histories, Jodorowsky has that certain unmistakeable playfulness with the material. How his young self depicted in the film comes to certain understandings with nuanced concepts of life and interactions with all the colorful characters that fill the screen are a joy to watch. But it is Brontis Jodorowsky, his real-life son, that gives a towering and powerful performance as his dramatized father, Jaime, a strict disciplinarian communist supporter that really drives the narrative in the second-half. A man of uncommon stubbornness and harshness, his simultaneous story of self-realization, redemption and change is a staggeringly rendered emotional journey. One that I suspect was the driving force behind the film’s intent and creation. To make the director’s father a man of reason and empathy; instead of one that never truly accepted his son as he was.
Peeling back the years of remorse and personal tragedy is no easy task, as evident in another one of my favorite movies this year Ida, but it is also a necessary and an invaluable one. The Beatles were the ones that said: “Living is easy with eyes closed”; it is simple to go through life without regret and never looking back at the hardships. Jodorowsky wants to enlighten us that while life can only be acted moving forwards, it can only truly be understood backwards.