Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

The Dance of Reality poster (1)

Chile / France 2013

Director: Alejandro Jorodowsky

Writer: Alejandro Jorodowsky

Runtime: 130 minutes

A dazzling magical-realist portral of a childhood in 1950s Chile

What a wonderfully original work of imagination is The Dance of Reality! This is the kind of film that makes you realise how rarely the possibilities of cinema are fully grasped. In a recent review of Boyhood I wrote how Richard Linklater was one of America’s most adventurous directors. That is true, but Alejandro Jorodowsky’s magical-realist re-telling of his own childhood, and especially his father’s role in it, makes Boyhood seem positively conservative. In The Dance of Reality Jorodowsky has cast his own (adult) son Brontis as his father Jaime, which must have made for an interesting experience in those scenes where Jaime is urinated upon and undergoes genital torture. The context to the story is that the Jorodowskys are Jews that have settled in Chile sometime after WW2, having fled anti-semitism in their native Ukraine. However, under elected president Colonel Ibanez (who had previously held power following a coup in the 1920s) the country is in economic turmoil, and paterfamilias Jaime plots with his fellow communists to assassinate the president.

Whilst the communists rail against oppression of minorities such as homosexuals, in his private life Jaime cannot bear the thought that his son (Jeremiah Herskovits) – all flowing golden hair and cossetted by his mother – might be viewed as a “faggot”. He tells the boy that he can win his father’s admiration if he is willing to endure pain. This is a prelude to a series of increasingly hard slaps around the face, resulting in a broken tooth. In the subsequent trip to the dentist, at his father’s encouragement, the boy has his treatment without any anaesthetic.

Whereas Jaime is all tough, confrontational, political logic, Alejandro’s mother Sara (Pamela Flores) is the emotional heart of the family, and as if to emphasise this all her lines are delivered in an operatic singing voice. When Alejandro is bullied by drunken sailors at a bar, she tells him that Jews like themselves must learn to become invisible and, to demonstrate this, she removes all her clothes and walks naked, untouched, among the sailors.

When Jaime becomes involved in the plot to assassinate the president, he becomes the central focus of the story, leaving the village and ending up working as a groom for the president’s horse. The plot does not go as planned, and it is from about this point onwards that the film charts the change in Jaime’s character, leading to a resolution in which Sara explains to him his true nature.

Some of the magical elements in The Dance of Reality are clearly politically symbolic, whereas others may have a more personal meaning for Jorodowsky. But even when I was not entirely sure what a particular image meant I was happy just to embrace the cinematic spectacle before me. On paper, the brutality of Jaime in the early scenes, as described above, might sound rather harrowing and, undoubtedly, his behaviour isn’t pleasant. However, for every serious moment there is a comic element lurking just around the corner. Jaime the angry communist is initially portrayed as an absurd figure, getting turned on, for example, by stockinged display legs in his shop and then demanding sex from his wife. In a scene reminiscent of Todd Browning’s Freaks, he gets into an argument with a group of people in the street who are all missing various limbs (victims of mining accidents). However, it is clear that there is goodness lurking within. Despite castigating his son for unnecessary generosity to others, he himself brings water to the sick and destitute. Later, he gives away all his money to pay for a friend’s funeral.

Ultimately, the film conveys a message of understanding and love from son to father. Jorodowsky has spoken of “the dance of reality” as reflecting the particular image that we each have of the world around us, and the realisation that we are all basically the same. As if to emphasise that this account of his childhood and his father is filtered through his own imagination, the director appears as himself in various scenes where he folds his arms protectively around the younger Alejandro.

This is a quite extraordinary film and one which I would thoroughly recommend. The performance by  Brontis Jorodowsky is something to behold and one of the best I have seen this year.

Rating: 10/10

Viewed at the Barbican Cinema as part of the 2014 East End Film Festival #EEFF2014