When I made my preview post listing how excited I was about various films I’d be watching for this challenge, I put two films under “I’m Terrified” – notable so-bad-it’s-good movie Birdemic: Shock and Terror and this Alejandro Jodorowsky film. I was terrified because my husband had watched it for his podcast and thought it was pretty weird and maybe a little offputting. I’d heard Jodorowsky was a tough nut to crack in general, and I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a good introduction to his surrealism or not – and surrealism has about an iffy track record with me. So I went in with quite a bit of trepidation.
Well, I kind of loved it.
It’s far more narratively straight-forward than I expected, with Jodorowsky telling us a surreal version of his childhood in the town of Tocopilla, Chile. I don’t know much about Jodorowsky’s biography aside from a cursory look at Wikipedia, so I won’t even try to figure out how accurate the story is to his life. Pretty sure it doesn’t really matter. In the film, his father Jaime is a harsh and authoritarian husband and father, a merchant who is also a communist – he plans to assassinate Chilean dictator Carlos Ibañez. Much of the film actually follows Jaime’s elaborate assassination plot and long odyssey to return home. Other parts showcase Alejandro as a boy, the outlandish characters he meets (like the Theosophist, a religious fanatic who lives nearly naked on the docks), and his close but unusual relationship with his mother.
The style of the film is surreal and absurd, but not inscrutable. Meanwhile, the photography is breathtakingly beautiful, filled with flamboyant colors and unforgettable set-pieces. Oh, and his mother sings all of her dialogue as if she’s in an opera. There are some parts that could probably be deemed offensive (the mother cures the father’s plague with, um, her pee, there’s a part where Alejandro’s afraid of the dark and she paints him black to make him a “monster of the night”, and there’s some naked torture scenes), but it all kind of fits within this world. Plus, for some reason that stuff came across as a provocateur’s indulgence rather than juvenile prurience. Plus plus, I loved the cinematography and the style and the other absurdity so much I didn’t much care. Perhaps most surprising, I found the whole thing intensely satisfying in a way I certainly never expected, given Jodorowsky’s reputation for obscurity and what I’d heard about this film in particular.
As a comparison, it’s basically Jodorowsky’s Amarcord, and I’m actually much more interested in revisiting Fellini’s semi-autobiography after having seen The Dance of Reality than I have been before. Bryan took a big risk recommending this one (and I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone myself), but it paid off for me.
Stats and stuff…
written and directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
starring Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, Jeremias Herskovits, Alejandro Jodorowsky
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how The Dance of Reality entered my chart:
The Dance of Reality beats Berlin: Symphony of a Great City
The Dance of Reality beats The Little Matchgirl
The Dance of Reality loses to The Juggler of Our Lady
The Dance of Reality beats The Magnificent Seven
The Dance of Reality beats American History X
The Dance of Reality loses to M
The Dance of Reality loses to Ratatouille
The Dance of Reality loses to The Untouchables
The Dance of Reality beats Grave of the Fireflies
The Dance of Reality loses to Desperado
The Dance of Reality loses to Dumbo
The Dance of Reality beats Easy Rider
Final #554 out of 3603 films on my chart (85%)
It is now my #1 Alejandro Jodorowsky film, my #10 Avant-Garde/Experimental Film, my #18 Based-on-a-True-Story Film, my #14 Biopic, my #19 Coming-of-Age film, and my #7 film of 2013.
The Dance of Reality was recommended by Bryan Dressel, friend and host of my husband’s podcast.
A few more screenshots…