“THE DANCE OF REALITY” (Film Review)
Experiencing a new film from a great, veteran filmmaker is always one of wariness and excitement, especially when you devote the time to see their work in the theater among equally nervous fans. Even understanding that the greater experience of filmmaking often makes master cinematic storytellers into bitter and passionless journeymen, every cinephile turns to their inner skeptic that hopes for another riveting return to form. And when it comes to genre movies, these filmmakers are all the more volatile considering just how important imagination is to the construct of horrific or fantastical cinema.
And yet, by the time Alejandro Jodorowsky’s THE DANCE OF REALITY came to a close, there was no sigh of relief or disappointment, but rather profound ecstasy in the wake of such exhilarating, bold filmmaking. His first film in 23 years thanks to the funding of producer Michel Seydoux, Jodorowsky’s latest venture into experimental cinema is not only on par with his classic films such as EL TOPO and THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, it’s also a beautiful self-examination that reveals a lighter side of the director that had often been excluded from his earlier work. While THE DANCE OF REALITY is still contemplative and even obscene at many turns, Jodorowsky juggles thoughts of terror, despair, faith, humanity, inhumanity and humor all within his uniquely uncompromising cinematic voice.
While THE DANCE OF REALITY is unsurprisingly experimental and off-kilter from start to finish, the visceral genre elements that turned Jodorowsky’s early philosophical art films into midnight movie phenomenons are mostly missing from the film. This isn’t to say that there are not scary moments in the film, especially those surrounding the young Alejandro’s first encounter with a fireman’s graphic death, but it is to say that brutal and shocking moments come secondary to the examination of faith and perseverance in the film. However, Jodorowsky additionally proves in THE DANCE OF REALITY that he’s still one of the most visually arresting and dangerously explicit directors working today, and almost effortlessly so.
THE DANCE OF REALITY is autobiographical in nature, exploring young Alejandro’s journey into self-realization and the depth of the human spirit while his father searches for meaning within his own existence and hardships. Narratively speaking, THE DANCE OF REALITY falls more in line with EL TOPO, as the story is much simpler and more comprehensible than his chaotic later output. Yet in this simplicity, THE DANCE OF REALITY plays with perspectives, theology and passion as only Jodorowsky can, punctuated by breathtaking art design by Alisarine Ducolumb and stunning digital photography from Jean-Marie Dreujou. In fact, one can say THE DANCE OF REALITY may understandably be more mature than any of Jodorowsky’s work to date, which is especially curious considering just how fantastic the film can be at times.
Even with all the wonders and surrealism which Jodorowsky wields like a visual blade, THE DANCE OF REALITY is especially affecting in just how personal the story is to the 85-year-old filmmaker. While his earlier work may be indicative of a filmmaker at war with his emotions and existence, THE DANCE OF REALITY evokes a filmmaker who has calmed under his experiences in life. For the first time, THE DANCE OF REALITY exhibits an energetic Jodorowsky who is as comfortable playing in comedy—and he does, as an assassination attempt at a dog costume contest makes for one of the funniest scenes of the year—as he does in mind-bending creepiness or heartbreaking drama. By doing so, Jodorowsky offers a coming-of-age story that features bodily fluids, torture sequences and his trademark assembly of physically deformed performers, yet still ends in a place of hope and comfort.
Above all, THE DANCE OF REALITY displays Jodorowsky’s resilience as a filmmaker, finding a creative groove that fits his working style and thought process while being stunningly effective. The film is gorgeous, both in content and in photography, and every audacious moment of excess or oddity feels inspired rather than false, or shoehorned. This writer would recommend any potential viewer to track the film down while it’s still in theaters, as seeing a Jodorowsky film on the big screen is a simply incomparable theatrical experience. In any case, those who appreciate art cinema should seek THE DANCE OF REALITY as soon as possible. It is not only Jodorowsky in his finest hour, but it’s subversive experimental filmmaking at its most soulful and powerful.