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‘The Dance of Reality’

by Giovanni Fazio

Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky blew people’s minds with two of the hippie era’s most esoteric movies: “El Topo” (1970) and “The Holy Mountain” (1973). They were midnight-movie megahits, praised to the heavens by the likes of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and it seemed like Jodorowsky was destined for greatness.

Yet after spending several years on an ultimately stillborn adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel “Dune,” (documented in “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” reviewed in The Japan Times on July 3), the filmmaker hit the wall in the mid-’70s, and worked mostly on graphic novels for the rest of his career.

During the making of “Jodorowky’s Dune,” the director, now 85 years old, was reunited with his former producer, Michel Seydoux, who was eager to work with Jodorowsky again — much to the director’s surprise, since a lot of Seydoux’s money (about $2 million) went to naught with “Dune.” Yet Seydoux came through, and we now have the first Jodorowsky film in 25 years: “The Dance of Reality,” originally released as “La Danza de la Realidad.”

It’s an autobiographical film in the sense that Fellini’s “Amarcord” was: Jodorowsky looks back at his youth in the backwater Chilean town of Tocopilla, bordered by desert and ocean, and viewed through a lens of carnival grotesquerie, poetry and allegory. On the one hand, it’s simply about the director’s own life — his Stalin-worshiping martinet father, his diva-esque, wannabe opera-singer mother and his own confusion about life. Yet “The Dance” is not just childhood reminiscence, but a mythologized version of it, a rumination on life, death, love, hate, God, existence, self-realization and annihilation, offset with a few good jokes and, of course, gratuitous weirdness.

Jodorowsky, who has been obsessed with tarot for years, often speaks of what he calls “psychomagic,” the use of art and acting as a form of ritual therapy, and this film is, in a very real sense, an attempt to come to grips with childhood traumas and exorcize them.

While he doesn’t go as far out as he has gone previously, Jodorowsky’s trademark juxtaposition of the mystical and the vulgar is present throughout, whether it’s a life-saving golden shower, a donkey’s heart being ripped out by a ravenous horde of refugees or a beautiful scene where the older Alejandro (played by the director) materializes to stop his younger self from committing suicide. Yet while “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” seemed to conjure up entirely parallel universes of ritualized actions and opaque archetypes (i.e., the heros of his classic ’70s films), “The Dance of Reality” feels more like the standard magical realism of Latin America — a cartoonishly embellished version of this world, with outlandish transvestites, pneumatic women and strutting Generalissimos. “The Dance” may be a rung below the revelatory realms of previous Jodorowsky explorations, but it’s still quite welcome.