Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks of your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
The Dance of Reality, avant-garde director-terriblé Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first film in more than twenty years, is a surrealistic, impressionistic, magical realistic (and any number of other tics you might want to throw into the mix) semi-autobiographical story about the artist’s early life in Chile before the revolution.
In many ways, one might compare it to Frederico Fellini’s Amarcord, also a semi-autobiographical story, with more than a few touches of impressionism itself, about that filmmaker’s life in 1930’s fascist Italy.
Of course, Fellini’s film doesn’t have a chorus of ex-coal miners missing most, if not all, of their limbs, breaking into a little ditty about their life as beggars; a mother who only sings her lines as if she were in an opera; a scene where this same mother raises her dress and urinates on her husband to cure him of his injuries (while belting an aria at the same time, of course).
I could go on and on, but you get my drift.
But while Fellini’s film filled me with deep emotion and a nostalgic wonder about the director’s early life, Jodorowsky’s film generally only affected me on an intellectual level. It’s beautiful to look at with remarkably staged scenes in and against some remarkably shot sets and some remarkably imaginative ways of telling a story. I mean, in many ways, it’s a remarkable film.
But in the end, I never felt a real emotional or human connection to what was going on.
One possible reason for this is that Jodorowsky keeps changing who the story is about. It begins as the tale of the sensitive Alejandro (the young Jodorowsky’s stand in, played by Jeremias Herskovits, who, it must be said, does share a strong resemblance to the director), with his difficult childhood under a tyrannical, abusive father and drama queen of a mother, a story seen from his point of view.
Then it suddenly switches horses and becomes about Jaime, Alejandro’s fascist/socialist father (played by Jodorowsky’s son Brontis Jodorowsky, who, it must be said, shares a strong resemblance to Stalin, though that’s the point). And I think this mid-stream switching does throw the flow off a bit.
And it probably doesn’t help that though Herskovits is game, he can’t quite pull it off. Or maybe better, Jodorowsky doesn’t quite have the deftness to pull a full-bodied performance from such a young and inexperienced actor (it is his first film).
Brontis Jodorowsky, it must be said though, gets more than his fair share of laughs and the strongest part of the movie is the second half when Jaime leaves home to assassinate Chile’s dictator but fails when he finds his hands paralyzed and curled up like witches’ claws. He loses his memory and when he gets it back, he finds he’s been living with a hunchbacked woman who hangs herself now that she knows she will be rejected for her looks.
Jaime then has a series of encounters starting with a charismatic church who takes pity on his predicament (perhaps the richest moments in the movie); next comes a street fight with a neo-Nazi group; followed by being arrested and tortured by the government; and finally being freed to become a hero to the revolution for having not given in.
There is something about this section that rises above the rest of the movie and leaves a deeper more moving, emotional resonance.
But in the end, the movie is still more of a curiosity, something interesting too look at and think about, but it doesn’t quite do enough else.
In the new Croatian film, The Priest’s Children, on an unnamed tourist island off, Don Fabijan, the new young priest, is frustrated. The previous older priest he was replace was so popular (he’s a huggable granddaddy of a bear who runs the teen choir and lets them sing upbeat popular songs), that he was called back after Fabijan was assigned the parish. Now no one comes to Fabijan’s services or even goes to him for confession (the older priest gives much shorter penances).
And even worse, the island is falling below zero population growth because everyone is using condoms and the pill, so his parish is also dying.
The solution? Join forces with the two major sellers of contraception in town (one because he feels guilty for doing such an anti-Catholic thing as selling birth control and the other because he’s Xenophobic and afraid that the Muslims and Albanians and anyone non-Croatian will eventually drive all the Christians out or, worse, intermarry) and punch holes through the rubbers and substitute vitamins for the pill.
All right. I’m sorry, but this is a screamingly funny idea for a farce, or a dark comedy, or a farcical dark comedy, or whatever you want to do with it. It’s clever and original and one just has to see what’s going to happen.
And it starts out quite, quite promising. There’s just something about this new priest, played by Kresimir Mikic, who is tall and lanky and has a somewhat off kilter face, that almost makes you laugh just by looking at him. And when he walks down the street, he’s framed in such a way against the background and is accompanied by music of an odd, whimsical nature (by Mate Matisic, who also co-wrote the screenplay with the director Vinko Bresan) that it just sets you in titters (yes, titters).
It’s all quite quirky and funny, often for reasons you’re not quite sure of. It just is. And it has a first rate supporting cast that get laughs with the slightest change of expression on their faces.
But then, well, it stops really going anywhere that interesting. I mean, instead of following this set up logically and seeing what would happen to this sleepy little town that only comes alive in the summer when suddenly, out of nowhere, for reasons no one understands, everyone, and I mean, everyone (except for the male socialist school teacher and the capitalist married mayor who are sneaking out nightly to meet at a fishing cabin to, well, do you know what) starts having babies, the story, well, it just doesn’t go there.
Instead, it takes some really odd twists and turns that never really made a lot of sense to me with some through lines with results that seemed a bit too arbitrary with the result that the story got more and more puzzling rather than deeper and deeper and emotionally satisfying.
These turns also suggested some rather mystifying and more than tenuous moral conclusions: one shouldn’t substitute vitamins for the pill because if you do a young woman is going to become pregnant and her boyfriend is going to go off and die while trying to find land mines without marrying her and he didn’t want the baby anyway and then his family is going to abduct the woman and hold her prisoner long enough so she can’t get a legal abortion in which case she’ll try to do it herself resulting in her inability to ever have children again.
Or better yet, one shouldn’t punch holes in condoms because if you do, the granddaddy and popular priest is going to get the lead teen singer pregnant and she’s going to kill herself by throwing herself in the bay.
I mean, the logic is so indisputable, and the QED so QEDish, who couldn’t possibly have seen either of those outcomes coming?
And then in the final scenes the authors really try to make the whole thing even more profound with plot turns that are even odder than anything that came before. But for me, the profundity went over my head and I had no longer had anyt idea what the authors were trying to say or do.
In the end, the whole movie comes across as one of those films that has this incredibly great premise, but no one seemed to really know what to do with it.