Friday, May 23, 2014

Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality

What is it like to grow up with a father who idolizes Stalin? It’s hard. Yet, Alejandro Jodorowsky tries not to judge him too harshly. In fact, he casts his son Brontis in the role, adding further Freudian layers to his autobiographical The Dance of Reality (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

As the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, young Alejandro would be an outsider in coastal Tocopilla, regardless. Dressing like Stalin, just as his father Jaime does, only makes matters worse. He is a sensitive youth, more comfortable around his protective mother Sara, who sings arias rather than talking in a conventional manner. The future director of Santa Sangre is bullied mercilessly by his father, but he slowly forges a relationship through his stiff upper lip—at least until Jaime vanishes on a mysterious (and purely fictional) mission of extremist political violence.

Although it does not exactly belabor the point, Reality eventually suggests Jaime’s Stalinism is a manifestation of his domineering instincts, which he should strive to overcome. That certainly seems reasonable. However, most of the film is an uneasy attempt to tell Jorowsky’s coming of age story while providing the surreal weirdness his admirers will expect, like Truffaut’s Doinel films tripping on acid. Frankly, it often feels rather forced.

To make matters stranger and more uncomfortable, Jodorowsky himself often walks into the picture Rod Serling-style to offer commentary and comfort his young alter-ego. However, it is decidedly creepy to see him drape himself over the boy, like a pervy Looper. While Jodorwosky’s manic enthusiasm is rather charming in Frank Pavich’s Dune documentary, he quickly wears out his welcome in Reality.

Surprisingly, it is Brontis Jodorowsky who takes ownership of Reality. More than just keeping his head above the flood of madness, the almost Paul Atreides vividly expresses both the intolerance and the insecurity warring within his grandfather. In contrast, his brother Cristobal is game enough as the lead of their other brother Adan’s Voice Thief, but a little of him and his thong goes a long way as the Theosophist.

Jodorowsky senior almost pulls Reality together down the stretch, gently but firmly repudiating Jaime’s paternal severity and political zealotry, but there are just too many freaks, midgets, and scenes of ambiguously oedipal nudity to wade through. Only for hardcore Jodorowsky cultists, the long awaited The Dance of Reality opens today (5/23) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.