Friday, June 13, 2014

CAPSULE!: The Dance of Reality

It's been a huge time for cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose El Topo and The Holy Mountain pretty much defined the midnight movie in the early 1970s. His incredible ambition (matched with his resolutely out-there imagination) have been out of proportion to the bottom line of would-be producers, and so movies by this visionary artist have been few and far between. But here, on the heels of the documentary Jodorowsky's DUNE (previously discussed here) which documented his ambitious, ultimately unrealized take on Frank Herbert's science fiction novel, comes a movie that Jodorowsky actually finished.

The Dance of Reality offers a highly-stylized and surprisingly emotional take on experiences from Jodorowsky's childhood, and though one often suspects that events didn't quite unfold as laid out, the resulting movie is unquestionably spectacular. Jodorowsky himself steps into frame on occasion to comfort his younger self through the travails of a difficult childhood, dominated an immigrant father (Brontis Jodorowsky, here playing his grandfather) whose confrontational politics warp his familial relationships. The family is swept into the political & social dramas that rocked Chile during Jodorowsky's childhood, and he renders the events dreamily, playing them out as a particularly perverse form of children's theatre. The result is a splendid, often harrowing, and visually stunning coming of age movie.

There's a dissertation to be written on the on-screen relationship between Alejandro and Brontis Jodorowsky; the latter often seems to be downright martyred in his father's films (including undergoing grueling martial arts training for the unmade Dune), and one wonders if casting Brontis as his father is a karmic gesture on Alejandro's part. (Soon enough, however, Brontis undergoes paralysis and other mortifications, enough to keep this level with his previous work for his father.) Brontis is strikingly good here - an intense performance that gels nicely with the often theatrical mise-en-scene deployed by Jodorowsky. Pamela Flores mines similar gold as Alejandro's mother, a former opera singer who, naturally, sings every word of her dialogue, a tactic Jodorowsky mines for operatic pathos and grace. (Flores is especially striking in a nocturnal game of hide-and-seek with her son that becomes one of the year's most astonishing and moving setpieces.)

It's the perfect companion piece to Jodorowsky's DUNE, despite being a much smaller-scale movie than Dune would have been. It shows a Jodorowsky up to his old tricks, but at peace with the present (shooting the movie digitally, and largely crowdfunding the thing). Happily, with funding secured from Russian producers for the long-discussed Son of El Topo, it seems we won't have to wait 23 years for Jodorowsky's next.

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