In “The Dance of Reality,” the first film in about a quarter-century by the 85-year-old Mexican cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky (“El Topo,” “Santa Sangre”), the filmmaker pays an autobiographical visit to his half-fantasized childhood growing up in a coastal Chilean village.
It’s literally a “visit”: The real Jodorowsky, with his somehow comforting white beard and benign visage, shows up time and again in the story as a soothing presence, giving the abused, misunderstood boy (Jeremias Herskovits) he once was moments of peace and reassurance.
Little Alejandro needs the succor, too. Besieged every day by his half-mad father, Jaime (played by the director’s real-life eldest son, Brontis Jodorowsky), a Jewish Stalinist with an enormous chip on his shoulder, the child endures pointless humiliation and pain to prove himself worthy of the older man’s affection.
Yet part of the dance in “The Dance of Reality” is between one’s own destiny and uncontrollable forces. In both Alejandro’s and Jaime’s stories, the larger world can either break one or open one’s eyes to miracles and wonders.
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It should be no surprise to anyone familiar with Jodorowsky, the filmmaker, that he populates this time and place with strange marvels: street-corner clowns, a gaggle of feisty amputees, a mother (Pamela Flores) who communicates only in the sweetest soprano singing voice.
While Jaime embarks on a fool’s odyssey to assassinate a dictator (and pays for it in hallucinatory misadventures), Alejandro learns to navigate the mysteries of pain and knowledge. In one of the film’s most intriguing scenes, his mother covers him from head to toe in black grease, the better to become one with the night, omniscient and all-seeing.
One senses that in that moment, a filmmaker is born.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org