There are those who make film for money. There are others that make film for the adventure or ego of it all. But then there is the most special kind of filmmaker—the true artist. That rare kind of maverick who is so driven by total, unsullied heart, soul and vision that such mainstream cinema conceits like compromise and whoredom are completely out of the question. These are the artists that truly love us because they respect us enough to never lie, never condescend and never ever play you for a fool. There is no living filmmaker today that defines all of this and more better than Alejandro Jodorowsky.
With a body of work that ranges from the literally riot-inducing feature film debut of Fando Y Lis (1968), the visceral yet spiritual El Topo (1970), the esoteric masterwork that is The Holy Mountain (1973) and the most heart searing film based on a real serial killer, Santa Sangre (1989), Jodorowsky’s major films are some of the purest and wholly unique contributions to cinema. That’s not even mentioning his status as one of the founders of the legendary Panic Movement or his comic book collaborations with the late, great artist Moebius. Now 85 years old, the easiest thing for Jodorowsky to have done was to rest on his laurels and bask in the light of past achievement. But true artists and warriors never rest. In fact, they don’t even know what the word means and after years of planting assorted cinematic seeds that have not borne any fruit yet, such as his scripts for King Shot and Son of El Topo, one finally did. (Lucky for us!)
La Danza de la Realidad aka The Dance of Reality is Jodorowsky’s first feature film since Santa Sangre, almost 25 years ago. Time has only given the already instinctive director a deeper sense of the multitude of layers that make up the human condition. Even more striking is that it is his own personal human condition, as well as that of his family, that he explores here. The film opens with the imagery of money, blood and news. Jodorowsky’s voice comes in, saying “Money is like Christ. It blesses you if you share it. Money enlightens those who use it to open the flower of the world and damn those that glorify it.”
A circus tent comes into view. Young Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) arrives with his father, Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky). They are greeted by two bizarre and cheeky clowns, who gently badger Jaime into first, climbing a rope, then bare fist fighting, all by basically challenging his masculinity. Alejandro is frightened and ends up running away to his father’s store, the Casa Ukrania. Outside is a little person dressed up as a devil, taking the carny barker route for advertising. He is greeted by this songbird built like Gaia, singing “Alejandrito!” This is his mother, Sara (Pamela Flores).
Alejandro runs to the beach and encounters the Queen of Cups, who tries to calm the child, who is throwing stones at the ocean. He is warned that “a single stone can kill all the fish.” In one of the most startling visuals in the whole film, this very thing happens as the beach is flooded with dead fish. The Queen is upset and yet the villagers are happy with this excess of food, even playing and throwing the little fish bodies around.
Grown up Alejandro appears and comforts his younger self, adding a sense of personal guidance to a child lost in a world of an over-masculine father, a mother whose is always one-two stepping away from reality and a landscape where the working man, in this case coal miners, are treated as thoroughly disposable by those in power. In fact, there is actually a scene where the police round up a group of protesting ex-miners, who have been forced to live on the streets after losing assorted limbs resulting from work-related accidents. One of the officials says, “Take them to the rubbish dump.” This is how the damaged working class was treated and really, things are not that different now.
Midway the film switches from little Alajandrito’s journey to that of Jaime, his father. Most filmmakers would have not made such a bold move and most definitely would have not have had the intuitive insight to show such a strong character’s duality. In fact, duality is something that Jodorowsky has always had the testicular creative fortitude to explore. In a cinematic landscape often built on bold strokes of black and white, Jodorowsky from Fando y Lis onwards has full on explored the various shades of gray with his characters. Which is brilliant. Someone may be harsh bordering on abusive to their son and wife, but there are layers underneath that. There’s heart, there are personal demons and there is the light for redemption.
The Dance of Reality is a one of the most intelligent films to have emerged in a very long time. It’s not just intellectually “smart,” but also visually and emotionally deep as well. Jodorowsky has managed to create this intricate, patchwork quilt of a story—his own story—and give you an experience that is at times surreal, other times brutal and beautiful and a 100% honest. There are zero false moves here.
The way he approaches the story of both his childhood and his parents is fascinating. For anyone familiar with European filmmaker Louis Mouchet’s excellent 1994 documentary, La Constellation Jodorowsky, some of this technique will feel instantly familiar. In La Constellation, you see Jodorowsky build a human tarot deck. Think less divination and more of a therapeutic “psychodrama” technique that utilizes the tarot as a means to reveal facets about your family, your past and yourself. That brief description does not truly do this justice, but The Dance of Reality has a feel that this is Jodorowsky using the medium of cinema to conduct his own personal human tarot reading.
All of the players in the film are pitch perfect, with his son Brontis completely embodying the role of Jaime to the extent that you truly feel like you are watching his grandfather, as opposed to watching Jaime’s grandson mimic him. He pulls off and peels off the assortment of layers that this man has, seeing him evolve from one who wounds to a wounded man to something more transcendent. It’s a supremely strong performance. Anyone seeing interviews with Brontis, who comes across as very soft spoken and sensitive will be very shocked to see him here. You are seeing two completely different people and if that is not a testament to a great performance, I don’t know what is. The rest of the cast are great too, with Herskovitz doing an admirable job as young Alajandrito and Pamela Flores making a striking impression as his musical, magical and dysfunctional mother.
The phrase “cinema magic” is one whose power has faded from years of overuse and bad application. The Dance of Reality is the perfect film to re-infuse that tried and now true-again phrase. The magic of movie making vibrates with every frame of this film from one of the last truly innovative film maverick masters alive. Every movie lover worth his and her salt should have a little altar in their heart for Alejandro Jodorowsky.
The Dance of Reality opens in select theaters beginning May 23
Photos via “Le Soleil Films” Chile; “Camera One” France 2013; Pathe; Courtesy of ABKCO La Danza, LLC