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The Dance of Reality – When Gabriel García Márquez Meets Wes Anderson

By any standard, Alejandro Jodorowsky is a weirdo. His first feature film Fando y Lis caused a full scale riot at the film festival premier and was later banned in Mexico; his two masterpieces El Topo and Holy Mountain, were hailed as cult classics and admired by film lovers from different generations; his last film was 23 years ago (even Terrence Malick didn’t make us wait for so long!), and his best film, Dune, is never made. Among all Jodorowsky’s work, I have only seen El Topo, on rare 35mm print at Roxie, a bold, mystical, avant-garde film even in the current aesthetic yet also carries many philosophical messages that seem eternal. Jodorowsky’s films are dark, violent and surreal, but when you look at him in Jodorowsky’s Dune, a recent documentary about his unsuccessful attempt to adapt and film Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction novel Dune, this 85 years old man is hale, passionate, genuine, full of life, as if he were a twenty-something just about to embrace the bright future. That enormous difference shocked me, and deeply touched me. He must be living in a different world, where paranoid and persistence are the same thing and fantasy is just another form of conviction, where film is an indisputable religion.

Jodorowsky’s newest film, The Dance of Reality, is nothing short of what he has achieved. Set in nineteen-thirties in his hometown Tocopilla, Chile, this film is Jodorowsky’s recollection as well as imagination of his childhood. He times travels back to steer the young himself through his difficult life – a tyrannic father, a hysterical mother and a pathological world under the dictatorship of army general, Carlos Ibáñez del Campo. Straight from the beginning, the film possess a tone deftly running between realism and sureallism. For one second, young Jodorowsky is frustrated by his father’s scolding and runs to the beach, throwing a rock into the ocean just like every young little boy; for the next second, a gigantic wave roars ashore and tiles the entire beach with shimmering silver-scale fishes. This little Latin American town, with its barren lands, unknown plague, repressed society, and a flock of men with different parts of body amputated, looks just like drawn from One Hundred Years of Solitude. Sometimes you don’t even know if you should feel sympathetic or amused; under that bizarrely magical presentation, there is anguish and dismay, but also a sense of humor and sarcasm. Even when Jodorowsky’s father sets out his perilous journey to stop Ibáñez’s savage reign, there is little really about Ibáñez, it’s all about the Jorodowskys, the strenuous yet inevitable path they take to embrace reality.

Then, there are also things and colors I have only seen in Wes Anderson’s films. A beautiful woman whose ample breasts wriggle solemnly as she sings her words in overwhelming opera, red army uniforms with huge golden star that are equally handsome and childlike, and the widing little-town streets along which variety stores are painted in nostalgic hues. I probably shouldn’t say so since when Jodorowsky made fame Anderson was just a toddler, but there is no denial that Wes Anderson’s films are the closest to adult fairy tales and fairy tale is something I felt about this film underneath its cruelty and apparent ideology. To the end, this is a triumphant story, celebrating love and faith in life. All the miseries and struggles eventually turn into treasured experience, and all the joys and warmth are untoticedly amplified. In the young Jodorowsky’s world, even the lost of a friend is remembered by him wearing a pair of shiny red shoes hopping up and down the stairs.

In The Dance of Reality, Jodorowsky infuses magics into the otherwise mundane life and violent incidents. It is a poignant political satire, a vividly colorful fable, and at its heart, a heartwarming recreation of memory cherished by a little boy and told in an old man’s sage word.  ★★★★☆