DVD Review: The Dance of Reality

Starring: Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s autobiographical film about his early childhood in the small town of Tocopilla in Chile is very much a family affair. Jodorowsky himself appears on screen as witness and commentator, and his son Brontis Jodorowsky takes on the role of the director’s father, Jaime, a shopkeeper whose communist principles are at odds with his tyrannical manner towards his wife and son.

It’s cinematic autobiography in the grand, Fellini-esque manner, heightened, surreal, full of hot, pungent colours and sounds, raucous comedy and fantastical characters and events. A moment, for instance, where little Alejandro throws a stone at the sea, only for the sea to pelt him with fishes, all the more delightful for the director’s fans as it sees him exploring the potential of CGI. Or the way Alejandro’s devoutly God-fearing mother Sara (a brave and brilliant performance by the voluptuous soprano Pamela Flores) spends the entire movie singing as though she were in an Italian opera, expressing her pieties and folk wisdom in haunting arias – a conceit that might have seemed contrived and jarring but one that you quickly accept as somehow right and natural.

The early part of the movie deals with Jaime’s increasingly desperate efforts to toughen up his son, detach him forcibly from his mother’s apron-strings and remould him in his own image (the pair of them go around wearing matching Stalin boiler suits). Later, autobiography turns to picaresque when the father makes a bungling attempt on the life of Chile’s President Albanez and as a result embarks upon one of the more extreme character arcs in recent cinema history. Throughout, Jodorowsky creates an intensely rendered world of his own, full of beauty and brutality and sudden, vertiginous shifts of tone and pace. It’s a vision that can jump breathlessly but surely from skin-crawlingly explicit torture sequences to moments of tender, lyricism such as the scene where Sara covers her son and herself with black boot polish to conquer his fear of the dark.

Yet for all its baroque idiosyncrasies, its bold mixture of farce and magical realism, The Dance of Reality has a strong, relatable emotional centre based around family and a few simple themes, in particular the question of whether the miraculous has any place in a hard, unforgiving world. You don’t have to share Jodorowsky’s religious beliefs to be deeply moved by this sense of spiritual yearning, or exhilarated by the sheer brio he brings to its expression. Affectionate, energetic, endlessly surprising and inventive, The Dance of Reality will delight admirers of Jorodowsky’s previous work and sets the seal on his reputation as a truly great director. 10/10

EXTRAS
8-min piece from the film’s showing at Cannes, with Jodorowsky and his sons on stage. The director explains how the movie was about “making peace with my father”, and goes on to explain that his mother harboured ambitions to be an opera singer, so he tried to make her dream come true posthumously on film. 5/10

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