Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review: The Dance of Reality

Image courtesy of ABKCO Films.
It's great to see cult filmmaking legend Alejandro Jodorowsky once again behind the camera. It's been 24 years since his previous film, "The Rainbow Thief," and it's plain to see that the director has not lost his touch in conjuring up memorably delirious images.

For those not familiar with his work, Jodorowsky was one of the progenitors of the midnight movie phenomenon with his brilliant and truly insane 1970 landmark "El Topo," which caught the attention of no less than John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He followed that film with the even weirder "The Holy Mountain" and the visually sumptuous and frequently horrific "Santa Sangre." His latest, the autobiographical "The Dance of Reality," is similar in style to his previous works, but with more of a political edge to it.

So, on the one hand, it's great to see this truly original artist back at work and "The Dance of Reality" has a certain power to it. On the other hand, it's not without fault.

In the film, a young boy (Jeremiah Herskovits) stands in for Jodorowsky's childhood, growing up in the small Chilean town of Tocopilla with his father Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky, the filmmaker's son), a violent, Stalin-obsessed man who tells his son that the slaps and beatings he doles out will help make him a man, and mother Sara (Pamela Flores), who sings every one of her lines as if in an opera.

The film's first two-thirds follow this story and contain exactly the type of stunning - and shocking - visuals you'd expect in a Jodorowsky film: limbless men cavorting in the street, a colorfully-garbed midget, a shaman-like character covered in some sort of dust and clad only in underwear and parades during which spectators wear skull masks. Although strange, these scenes blend naturally with Alejandro's coming of age tale. The director himself even makes appearances to comment on the action.

The film's final third involves Jaime running away from his family to assassinate a cruel dictator and his eventual turn to communism and, then, near sainthood. It's during these sequences - which involve the training of a horse, a run-in with Chilean Nazis (don't ask) and torture scenes - that the picture begins to lose some of its power. It all feels like a little too much and the final 30 minutes or so drag a bit more than they should.

There is no doubt that Jodorowsky can still find images that sear onto the brain and, at age 85, has more to say as an artist. It's a shame that it's been so long since he released a film, but with this movie - and the recently released documentary of his trials and tribulations trying to direct Frank Herbert's "Dune" - it appears he's back. Here's to hoping he makes another one.

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