If patience is a virtue, then legendary 85-year-old Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky must be a saint. Once celebrated as the "king of midnight movies" after the huge underground success of his early-1970s surrealist classics El Topo and The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky had not made a film in 23 years before completing The Dance of Reality. But it wasn't for lack of trying.
Jodorowsky announced several film projects over the last two decades, but financing repeatedly fell through. The recent documentary Jodorowsky's Dune told the story behind the director's famous early financing debacle, which resulted in what might be the most influential unmade film of all time. The documentary helped introduce Jodorowsky to a new generation of indie film fans (his work has been largely unavailable on video due to legal disputes), and it reunited him with Michel Seydoux, the French film producer with whom he tried (and failed) to make Dune in the mid-1970s. Jodorowsky now says that when Seydoux offered to back him once more on a new film, the director was so overcome with emotion he had to leave the room. Whimsical, heartfelt and characteristically audacious, The Dance of Reality can only be taken as a long-delayed triumph for both Jodorowsky and Seydoux.
Based on Jodorowsky's published memoir of the same name (which was subtitled "A Psychomagical Autobiography"), The Dance of Reality recalls films by fellow surrealists Federico Fellini and Luis Bunuel and the magical realism of writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, especially Love in the Time of Cholera — which, like Jodorowsky's film, focuses largely on the story of its author's real-life parents. But The Dance of Reality is pure Jodorowsky. He shot the film in Tocopilla, Chile, the seaside village of his childhood, and it features his three sons in key roles including that of Jodorowsky's father Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky). Jaime begins as an authoritarian who looks and acts like Joseph Stalin, and Jodorowsky's mother Sara (Pamela Flores) communicates only in operatic song.
Jodorowsky jumps into the film at will to address the audience directly or advise his childhood self (Jeremias Herskovits) on how to endure early traumas. The Dance of Reality sometimes seems like family therapy on acid, but there are no bad trips here. The director maintains a wicked sense of humor throughout.
Amid the film's flights of fancy, The Dance of Reality tells a story coherent enough to surprise those familiar with Jodorowsky's previous work. Set during the global poverty of the Great Depression, the film skewers religious and political power from every angle before giving way to Jodorowsky's personal brand of mystic humanism. A parting image of the director, his younger self, and a character in a dime-store skeleton costume fading into the mist on a seafaring boat may seem like a final farewell, or even a coming to terms with the inevitably of death. But Jodorowsky claims to have hundreds more films in his head, and he clearly has the will to continue. As unlikely as it seems, his time may have finally arrived. — KEN KORMAN