06/13/2014 12:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Dance of Reality


Alejandro Jodorowsky is the famed director of the cult classics El Topo and The Holy Mountain and most recently the subject of a documentary about his failed attempt to make a movie from Frank Herbert's Dune. The Dance of Reality is his first film in 23 years and it's a spiritual autobiography, redounding in not only the style but the content of Fellini's 81/2, with a bit of Bunuel and Dali's Un Chien Andalou (and Bunuel's Los Olivados thrown in for good measure). As far as Fellini is concerned, the early parts of the film include a circus together with a cavalcade of grotesques including a parade of sufferers of the Black Death right out of Brueghel together with a coven of amputees--all this to a musical accompaniment which could have Fellini's estate suing in the way Marvin Gaye's survivors sued Robin Thicke for his appropriation of Got to Give it Up. Jodorowsky, who worked with Marcel Marceau and developed his surrealism as a performance artist and instigator of the Panic Movement alongside Fernando Arrabal, earns his surrealist stripes with scenes in which young Alejandro's (Jeremias Herskovits) mother Sara (Pamela Flores) urinates on his father, Jaime (played by Jodorowsky's son Brontis). Sara later dances naked before her son who has been turned into a blackamoor courtesy of a can of shoe polish. Vivid torture in a Chilian prison where the Bolshevik Jaime is turned into a Christ figure enduring electric shocks to his testicles and drowning in advance of being crucified complete the perverse tableau. The film should rightfully be called The Dance of Surreality. Where the The Dance of Reality differs specifically from 81/2 is that it's not about the creation of the artistic sensibility so much as a fantasy ridden painting of Jodorowsky's own childhood. Jodorowsky was born in the small Chilean town of Tocopilla and the director appears throughout the landscape of the film as the doppelgänger of his childhood self. His father and mother were Russian Jews and ran a woman's haberdashery and lingerie store called the Casa Ukrania in the town. Alongside cabinets stuffed with bras, bustiers, lacy underwear and stockings is a portrait of Stalin and Jodorowsky senior makes his son repeat "God Does Not Exist. You Die and You Rot." He will also later be chastened by his insistence that "willpower overcomes all" since he is saved from a crippling paralysis to his hands (attendant upon a Hamlet like inability to carry out a political assassination) by the mystical side of his opera singer wife's nature. No film about a left leaning family of Russian Jewish refugees would be replete without it's psychoanalytic catharsis. This one takes place when Sara puts a weapon in her husband's hand and has him shoot at portraits of himself, Stalin and the now deposed Chilean dictator, Ibanez. It's probably the only psychoanalysis in human history carried out as a recitative. The Dance of Reality is brilliant and haunting and its very inception begs for masterpiece status. Is it a masterpiece like say 81/2? Who cares one might ask. The answer would most probably be Alejandro Jodorowsky, who if nothing else is, to use a non-Yiddish sounding neologism, the ultimate Gesamtkunstmacher. If The Dance of Reality aspires to greatness and a kind of hagiography, it also traces the roots of that aspiration in the filmmaker's experience of his extraordinary childhood.

This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.