Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 27, 2013 7:25 am 
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It all means something this time

Though it has its share of dwarfs and amputees and other signature images that can be disturbing to viewers, Jodorowsky's first big feature in years, based on his childhood in Chile, ends up feeling healing and positive. In spite of all the punishments and disasters the director's young alter ego must undergo, there is a light-hearted, it's-all-for-the-best tone that bespeaks a mature mellowness. There is also much that the director has to say about life, sometimes a little too overtly stated. Think a (admittedly very offbeat) Hallmark card with a touch of Zen and design by Fellini and De Sica (with a nod to ) and you won't be too far off the mark. But you also won't forget this is Jodorowsky, and nobody else, making a convincing bid to be added back firmly onto the roster of the world's great living directors. And indeed Jodorowsky himself appears, like a benign, elegant deus ex machina, standing by to comfort and guide his younger self (played by the wonderful Jeremias Herskovits) as well as his excellent son Brontis, who plays his own father, Jaime Jodorowsky. This is the director's first really personal work since Santa Sangre in 1989, and it has an authenticity and purity lacking in his earlier surreal midnight cult favorites, El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973), which seemed more qualified to impress and shock than to enlighten.

La danza de la realidad is a triumph, but it's not everybody's cup of tea (and that includes me), and it is not likely to reveal its riches in a single viewing. Narrative-wise it seems too much, initially, like one unexpected, off-the-wall thing after another. And it's self-described genre of "imaginary autobiography" with a plethora of surreal, symbolic scenes, means they require a great deal of interpretation to be more than just a pleasingly colorful show.

Jodorowsky returns to his hometown of Tocopilla in the Chilean desert for the setting of this film, which focuses on himself in the shadow of his father, a fierce communist (Stalin an idol) who rages at the world, including his son, and at the equally raging antisemitism he and his family continually face during these early years. Some of the color includes full-fledged Nazis with red swastikas, the Chilean flag, a red communist uniform young Alejandro is suited up in, free-flowing blood -- and a busty mother, Sara (Pamela Flores), her sexy, but also comforting cleavage never out of sight, who sings all her lines operatically in a quavering soprano. The boy Alejandro Jodorowsky is made to man up by his bullying, former circus performer father in a variety of ways, in the face of Sara's desire to pamper and baby him, whose smothering effect is grotesquely increased by her mad conviction that little Alejandro is the literal reincarnation of her own father. The boy has his long Little Lord Fauntleroy golden locks shorn at father's orders. At the barber's, a few of those locks are cut off, and then to enhance a Brechtian sense of the film's theatricality, the wig is pulled away, but young Alejandro yells and weeps just the same as if he were being scalped. His father also tickles the boy all over with a feather and forces him to repress his giggles. Then when a tooth is damaged, he makes him have the dental repairs without any anesthetic.

The preteen Alejandro's private explorations of Tocopilia lead him to a partly realistic, partly El Topo-crazy world of costumed dwarfs, maimed mine workers, and a muscular, tattooed Theosophist who teaches him about meditation, as weall as a strange drunk who warns him not to throw stones into the sea.

More pain comes when Jaime, the father, who pathetically fails at a quixotic personal attempt to assassinate the hated Chilean fascist general Ibanez, is tortured by the state police, hung upside down, electrocuted on a metal bed, then, still naked, has electric wires attached to his testicles. We can only imagine the Freudian psychotherapy thus achieved with Jaime played by the director's own son. And we also can only imagine the very real memories of childhood psychological pain Jodorowsky is working through with his surreal mythologizing. Here, though, every sequence of pain and dire consequence somehow ends with a positive outcome.

The sense of the film is that the "dance of reality" of art, or of a magic realist-surrealist Latin American filmmaker of Jodorowsky's free-ranging imagination, is largely a dancing away from reality, rather than into it. And yet the overall feeling of positivity comes across as an embracing of life. Anyway, the brush Jodorowsky paints with as always is not the brush of Jane Austen or (God forbid) Norman Rockwell, but the brush of Fellini, Tod Browning, or Emir Kusturica -- the addition of Browning I owe to Peter Bradshaw's Cannes review in the Guardian.

The darker, heavier second half of this long film switches the focus to Jaime, the father, and may constitute Alejandro's attempt to forgive -- a process he night have achieved cinematically earlier had he not had so much trouble getting his bizarre, original fantasies produced for over two decades: but the wait, as they say, was worth it. The director keeps a series of spectacles and fabulous scenes coming, always with the focus on the present one, somewhat to the detriment of a unified whole. Scott Foundas in his Variety review suggests that sometimes the filmmaker's limited means and budget can't quite keep up with his imagination, but he also suggests that the "unapologetically low-fi" CGI may enhance rather than undermine the magic -- and Jodorowsky proves here his own claim of being a magician, somehow. Though Brontis is the family member who gives most visibly and generously, another son, Adan, wrote the score, and the 84-year-old (but still Haneke-handsome) director's wife Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky provides the colorful, bright eye-candy costumes. The bright look of the film contribues to its sense of positivity despite the elements of cruelty and trauma.

La danza de la realidad, 130 mins., debuted at Cannes in the Directors' Fortnight series and has shown at at a number of other international festivals. It opened theatrically in France 4 September 2013, and was screened for this review at Cinéma La Clef in Paris 26 October 2013. Thanks to my "Chtarbmusique" jazz vibraphonist friend Alain Pinsolle for inviting me to this screening. Limited US release begins Fri. 23 May 2014 in NYC and LA.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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