Alejandro Jodorowsky Goes on a Voyage in Search of Himself

Cult Director Returns to the Scene of His Childhood

Looking Back: Jodorowsky’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine.
Photo by David Cavallo, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Looking Back: Jodorowsky’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine.

By Ezra Glinter

Published May 22, 2014, issue of May 23, 2014.
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Pavich argues that Jodorowsky’s designs for the film influenced movie history anyway, through the work of his collaborators on later blockbusters like “Star Wars,” “Alien” and “The Fifth Element.” But the failed project had a more tangible effect as well. While making the documentary Pavich brought Jodorowsky back together with his old producer, Michel Seydoux, who offered to finance his next film. The result is “The Dance of Reality,” Jodorowsky’s first movie in 23 years, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013 together with “Jodorowsky’s Dune.”

Although “The Dance of Reality” is autobiographical, it is not strictly factual. Jodorowsky’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine who settled in Tocopilla, the mining and fishing town where he grew up. His father, Jaime Jodorowsky Groisman, was a devoted Stalinist and strict disciplinarian who ran a general store called Casa Ukraina, here depicted as a women’s lingerie shop. His mother, Sara Felicidad Jodorowsky, was cold and unaffectionate toward her son, which Jodorowsky claims was because he was conceived through rape. (This is depicted, to some extent, in the movie.) It was not a happy childhood.

Jodorowsky reinvents many of these details in the film, especially those pertaining to his mother, who is portrayed as a loving figure. “I change my memory — art is for that,” he said in March, at the film’s New York premiere at the Museum of Modern Art. He even imaginatively fulfilled her ambition to be a singer by casting an actual opera singer, Pamela Flores, who delivers all of her lines in song.

As with many of Jodorowsky’s movies, “The Dance of Reality” is a family affair. Jaime is played by Jodorowsky’s son, Brontis Jodorowsky, who appeared as the naked boy in “El Topo” and was cast to play the hero, Paul Atreides, in “Dune.” Also included are his sons Axel Jodorowsky, a “Theosophist” who instructs the young Alejandro in the mysteries of religion, and Adan Jodorowsky, who plays an anarchist revolutionary and who provided the music for the film.

Although “The Dance of Reality” lacks the shock value of Jodorowsky’s earlier work it is still very much a Jodorowsky film. Like “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” it is composed of episodes strung together in a meandering, quest-like sequence, rather than as a unified story. (For this reason I doubt that “Dune” would actually have been such a masterpiece even if it had been made, especially since it was planned to be 14 hours long.) The movie veers off in a new direction when his father decides to leave home to assassinate the president of Chile, General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, shifting the emphasis of the movie away from the young Jodorowsky and toward his tormented father.

Jodorowsky’s great strength has never been his stories, however, but his images. Despite his eclectic use of symbols, Jodorowsky’s movies belong to the vein of medieval and Renaissance strangeness associated with painters like Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Breughel the Elder, and which filtered into the 20th century through movements like surrealism, Jungian psychoanalysis, and New Age interests in alchemy, astrology and the Tarot. A particularly Breughelian scene in “The Holy Mountain” shows a corpulent older woman and her husband in their dingy attic apartment, he in the bathtub and she perched next to him on a six-foot-tall toilet.

“The Dance of Reality” partakes of this sensibility, but it stands apart from it as well. Favorite images that reappear in the film include people carrying black umbrellas through the desert and hauling old Victrolas around town, men dancing homoerotically in smoky taverns, and a collection of severely maimed and disfigured characters who populate the main street of Tocopilla. Whereas in previous films the presence of such figures went unexplained, however, here they are disabled miners whose limbs were torn off by dynamite. Unlike his earlier movies, which were never quite of this world, “The Dance of Reality” is set in a real time and place. Rather than present his images directly, as he did in earlier works, Jodorowsky introduces them as inspirations for his younger self.

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