Review: ‘The Dance of Reality’ is an oddly pleasant Alejandro Jodorowsky comeback

Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky calms his younger self () in "The Dance of Reality." Credit: Le Soleil Films, Chile/Camera One, France 2013/Pathe/ABKCO La Danza, LLC
Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky calms his younger self () in “The Dance of Reality.”
Credit: Le Soleil Films, Chile/Camera One, France 2013/Pathe/ABKCO La Danza, LLC

‘The Dance of Reality’
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Stars: Brontis Jodorowsky, Jeremias Herskovits
Rating: NR
3 (out of 5) Globes

Chilean-born artist Alejandro Jodorowsky invented the midnight movie, but his timing has usually been off. Since exploding on the scene with 1970’s “El Topo,” he’s only been able to make five films, many of them created only after soul-sucking money issues. But fate has it that his first film in 23 years arrives just as his work is back in vogue, being referenced by Kanye and St. Vincent, as well as in the recent documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune.”

“The Dance of Reality” is not, however, a primer. The best entryway for Jodorowsky is to dive right into the phantasmagoric, bloody, colorful and fleshy excesses of “El Topo” and (better yet) “The Holy Mountain.” “Dance of Reality” doesn’t run as purple as either of those. It’s not even “Santa Sangre,” his 1989 almost-comeback, which likewise portrays childhood. It’s both autobiographical and autumnal — a calm (but not that calm) reflection on reflection, from an artist whose work usually offers an unfiltered pipe from a delirious and drug-frazzled unconscious. It has the expected midgets and amputees and midget amputees and casual nudity and an urination-on-wounds scene and even a close-up of a private part being burned. But you could still watch it with your grandparents.

This is a tale of childhood, and it’s almost comforting that even Alejandro Jodorowsky’s youth was — up to a point, in spots — fairly commonplace. Young Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) is just another kid with a tyrannical, macho father, played by his own son Brontis. So far, so familiar. The details are a little off, though: Alejandro starts off as an androgynous, Little Lord Fauntleroy type with long, blond curls. His mother (Pamela Flores) — who sings all of her lines in an operatic warble — thinks he bears the likeness of her own father, who was immolated in a wacky oil barrel accident. His dad praises Stalin, but winds up bouncing around, like Candide — or the anti-hero of “El Topo” — between different, violent factions.

Brontis Jodorowsky (center) chastises his son next to a midget in Alejandro Jodorowsky's first film in 23 years. Credit: Le Soleil Films, Chile/Camera One France 2013/Pathe/ABKCO La Danza, LLC
Brontis Jodorowsky (center) chastises his son next to a midget in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first film in 23 years.
Credit: Le Soleil Films, Chile/Camera One France 2013/Pathe/ABKCO La Danza, LLC

Some of this is more quirky than inspired, although a non-sequitur line like “I don’t want to live in a world of dressed-up dogs” is something else entirely. It doesn’t have the mad energy of previous Jodorowskys, but rather a pleasant — okay, almost pleasant — memory piece vibe. It’s so much its own thing that when Jodorowsky tries to summon up his old films’ energy — or even directly references them, as in a scene of a dying horse that calls to mind the dying elephant pouring blood from its trunk in “Santa Sangre” — the comparison seems sad, not nostalgic.

The crisp digital has nothing on the bold primary colors of his best work — but the shape-shifting narrative has a lazy Sunday movie watching charm. And for a memory piece, this is agreeably unromantic, so detached from reality that we never come close to drowning in nostalgic bathos. It’s better this than the now 85-year-old — though still very brisk — artist trying to actually recapture his groove and failing depressingly.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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