It has been over two decades since Alejandro Jodorowsky directed a film, yet The Dance of Reality (La danza de la realidad) feels as assured and pointed as if he never left. Perhaps it's because here he's telling the story of his childhood writ large, in brightly colored tableaux and with elegant metaphors, and it's a story as inextricable from him as his own flesh. Or maybe it's because Jodorowsky is an incredible filmmaker who has never stopped directing in his heart and his mind.
Whatever the case, The Dance of Reality, while entirely uncommon, feels like a matter of fact. Within moments of the film I lived comfortably in this space, and once it ended it took me far longer to adjust to being out of it. In some ways it is a small story, the story of a father, a mother and a child. But The Dance of Reality is also grand, a legend of love, revenge, failure, Communism, war, redemption.
The film feels very theatrical. The stage is elaborate and lovely, and the camera is still - though never inert. Alejandrito's mother Sara is played by soprano Pamela Flores, who sings every line with unironic passion. Jodorowsky's son Brontis plays his father Jaime, and that makes sense on a few levels. Jodorowsky has cast Brontis before in El Topo and Santa Sangre, and of course he looks like he could be young Alejandrito's father. But it works thematically, as well, as Sara calls Alejandrito "my father," believing his long golden curls indicate that he is the reincarnated spirit of her father. The small, slender boy with eyes like oceans, played by Jeremias Herskovits, is both father and son, shouldering a depth of responsibility that no kid should have to endure.
Young Jodorowsky grew up in the poor Chilean town of Tocopilla, and The Dance of Reality was largely filmed there. It is a seaside town filled with circus characters and cripples, cruelty and imagination. Jaime, a devout Communist, leaves Sara and Alejandrito to hunt down and kill President Carlos Ibáñez, and his failure sets him on a path of self-loathing and pain. Meanwhile, Alejandrito is raised by his loving, sensitive mother, suffering taunts from his classmates for being Jewish and strange.
The film itself is a poem of ideas, a myth, a spectacle - and yet it never ceases to be a story, one with a beginning, a middle and an end. It has a journey and a lesson. Jodorowsky speaks in cyphers, but his storytelling is clear and lucid. The Dance of Reality may feature some unbelievable things - and it does, things too strange to describe, and anyway you should see them for yourself - but the film feels like an undeniable truth, one that gives us a glimpse into who Jodorowsky is and how that wondrous imagination of his was formed.