Ahead of the exclusive ICA run of The Dance of Reality (La Danza de la Realidad), Alejandro Jodorowsky's first film in 23 years, Cinema and Film Programme Manager Nico Marzano introduces the film and explores the life of the Chilean director.
Alejandro Jodorowsky is a complete and total artist: poet, filmmaker, writer of extraordinary comics, an underground surrealist as well as a great fan of tarot cards. A passionate storyteller, he conceived one of the most visionary films never to reach our screens: an ambitious, yet ultimately unsuccessful attempt to dramatise Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. Years later, the story of this project was chronicled in the wonderful documentary Jodorowsky's Dune. At the age of 84—now 23 years after his last film The Rainbow Thief—the Chilean artist managed to get back behind the camera to create a new gem, an exercise in fictional autobiography: The Dance of Reality.
Born in Chile in 1929, in the town of Tocopilla where the film is shot, Jodorowsky suffered a violent education at the hands of an uprooted family. In his work, he transports real events from his childhood into a poetic universe, at times sweet and at others grotesque. As well as being venerated by a devoted cult of cinema enthusiasts, his visionary works have inspired an entire generation of filmmakers and artists. His films often present strange and magical visions that are not easily categorised or understood. Primarily informed by his own spiritual journey, Jodorowsky’s cinematic signature is consistently manifested in violent, surreal images blended with elements of mysticism and religious provocation.
His completed films are few in number – only six features to date, two of which he has subsequently disowned. While other provocative and daring directors like Luis Buñuel and Federico Fellini were celebrated as auteurs by the critical establishment, Jodorowsky often wrote, directed, scored and starred in his films. He was, for a long time, lurking—and quite happily given his provocative nature—on the fringes of the film world. Despite this, he has managed to bring his distinctly surreal and esoteric sensibilities to the screen in controversial films such as Fando y Lis (1968), El Topo (1970)—showing at the ICA on 23 August—and The Holy Mountain (1973).
His new film The Dance of Reality is one of his most personal to date. A bright story inspired by his own life, it even stars members of his family. Based on his childhood memories in Tocopilla, the film is ostensibly the story of young Alejandro and Jaime, his authoritarian father, who is played by Jodorowsky's son Brontis. The mother of the little Alejandro, Sara (soprano Pamela Flores) is a Junoesque lady who sings in operatic style instead of talking, believing that her son is the reincarnation of his father who died in an explosion while lighting a lamp over a barrel of alcohol. All of this occurs against a backdrop of political Chilean society and social inequality in which Jaime, who runs a shop with his wife, is actually a card-carrying member of the Communist Party alongside a bizarre gallery of ideologues, transvestites and local prostitutes.
The director himself appears here and there during the story, usually to encourage or console his younger self. Yet, this is not just a memoir staged within a surreal, bizarre world. It feels instead more like an act of care, a way of rehabilitating the figures of his family and his history, to fix what had not been fair for him, his family and more broadly for his country in the past.
The film was shot entirely using digital technology, a medium which the Chilean director seized upon enthusiastically for the freedom it allowed him and his wife—with whom he worked on this project—when it came to storytelling, image grading and costume design.
The Dance of Reality is an ambitious film that sits solidly within the truly transgressive and politically engaged cinema of Alejandro Jodorowsky. His films have rightly gained a place in the cult tradition and can be seen as a cohesive body of work evoking a continuous spiritual journey as well as a sustained challenge to the mainstream political and religious climate. ■