Alejandro Jodorowsky is not a name familiar to most cinemagoers but a cult God to many, ever since his "El Topo" (1970) and "The Magic Mountain" (1973) became midnight movie staples. He is the equivalent of cinematic Marmite -- if you are familiar with his films (and there have been so few of them) you either hate them or willingly accept their beauty and weirdness.
Born in Chile in 1929 he was a poet, puppet-maker, clown and general rabble-rouser before moving to Paris in 1955. There he studied mime with Marcel Marceau, mixed with the surrealists and made his first feature film in 1968 "Fando y Lis". He had ambitious plans for a version of "Dune" (to star Orson Welles) which never made it to the screen. Only 1989's fantasmagorical "Santa Sangre" attracted any notice while his two other movies "Tusk" (1980) and "The Rainbow Thief" (1990) had no theatrical distribution. The latter is purportedly not a great flick, but I for one would love to see a movie starring Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, and Christopher Lee surface. In between he busied himself with cartooning, working on graphic novels, and publishing several books. A renaissance man for sure!
He returned to film-making in 2013 with the autobiographical film "The Dance of Reality" which I reviewed in passing a few years back. That film covered his early childhood in Chile, as seen through a surrealist's eye. The above movie picks up the story with the same actors -- a teenaged Jeremias Herskovits essaying young Alejandro, Pamela Flores playing his hard-done-by mother whose dialogue is sung as operatic arias, and his eldest son Brontis filling the shoes of his authoritarian father. The youngster helps out in his father's store, watching out for shoplifters for his Dad to drag out to the street, kick (urging his son to join in), and strip naked as a warning to the gawping bystanders. Dad hopes that his son will be a great doctor, but the boy only yearns to be a poet -- a would-be faggot, says Dad. He finally rebels against his extended suffocating family by hacking away at a tree in his grandmother's courtyard and is taken by a precocious cousin to the home of a pair of rich artistic sisters where he is welcomed amongst their resident bohemia. In the next scene the teenager emerges from his room some years on as the young adult Alejandro -- now played by the director's youngest son Adan (who also composed the music for the movie). Jodorowsky's films are usually family affairs and the real Alejandro appears periodically as the old man he is, as a kind of Greek chorus. His middle son Axel has also appeared in his father's films and I only learned recently that there was a fourth son Teo who died aged 24 in 1995.
This movie may well be the director's most accessible work and the critic of the New York Times believes it to be his best. I wouldn't care to draw the same conclusion but it is an absorbing watch with masterful photography from cinematic maven Christopher Doyle. As a fan of Federico Fellini, Jodorowky fills his screen with big-busted females, an assortment of dwarves, and a variety of artsy-craftsy types to people the young poet's wild parties and mount his 'chair of truth'. Black-hooded ninja figures whom we are not meant to notice are used to move the props. Two-dimensional stage scenery is wheeled on to recreate the streets of his youth. Hordes of post WW2 Nazis invade Santiago to reinforce the young poet's need to emigrate -- but only before he is made to reconcile with his hated father, forced to acknowledge the bonds of family by the older Jodorowsky figure. His first sexual encounter (everything but penetration he's warned) is with a violently red-wigged Amazon (played by the same actress as his mother) who will only walk with him holding his privates...and more. Yes, it's a very strange film -- but completely fascinating, if not for everyone.
This quasi-autobiographical movie which was partly crowd-funded is meant to be the second of five proposed films. That's a pretty ambitious project for a writer-director who will be 88 next month!
A serendipitous aside: I saw this movie in the cinema on Wednesday afternoon and by coincidence watched one of Sky's dreary premieres that evening, "Kids in Love" (also 2016). It stars the likeable young actor Will Poulter as a gap-year student being lured into the circle of some spoiled and gilded youth (including current flavour Cara Delavingne) through a chance meeting with a tasty young French student. And who was this temptress? One Alma Jodorowsky, daughter of Brontis. A nice coincidence but a pretty awful movie, so don't seek it out.