The Dance of Reality (2013)

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The start is pointedly emulative of I Clowns, one of Fellini’s most underrated films (I see Fellini elsewhere in the hallucinatory beach scenes like Juliet of the Spirits, and maybe Pasolini’s Teorema in the desert wanderers). Here the young AJ’s father is whipped into an adrenal frenzy by theatrical characters apparently from his past, resembling fruits and vegetables. The boy’s dramatic reaction is crushed by his father, who proceeds to wrestle with his own dictator complexes both politically and when dealing with his family, the boy and an operatic, spiritualistic mother. Bit of a Tree of Life tug of war between them, but the manichaean tussling does have a climactic resolution but the cosmic ballet – the “web of suffering and pleasure” as he puts it in his narration – goes on. It’s all show, like I Clowns, though this is just as political as Holy Mountain.

AJ is reaching through his own work, too: the cards burning at the secret communist meeting recalls the immolated cash in HM, the hundred sanded chairs retreat uncannily, while the father’s get-up as the dictator’s stable groom has a lot of the El Topo silhouette in it. Sense that he’s reeling these memories in – he often interjects, appearing physically, to remind us of the journey the young boy is on; he pulls him back from a ledge to exhort survival, “something is dreaming us”. You feel he has the liberty to (re)create his own backstory – whether imaginative simply in the way all self-narration is or by capturing subjective impression or by embellishing at a visual or narrative level – because he is self-made, a total curiosity.

Most of it is a parade of shocking scenery draped around the father’s story of transformative redemption (our sympathies are managed amazingly as this guy bends from tyrant to penitent). The attack on the donkeys at the watering is mesmeric and horrifying (flinching from all the animals especially because time can no longer claim to be on his side with this stuff), while the topless dancing with the horse is hilarious. There’s fighting amputees – of course – and accusatory humiliation of painted arms under a slum scaffold, nazis dying with baby voices and a woman pissing all over her husband’s face to rid him of plague. It’s all show. It’s great stuff, highly personal but still fascinating, a little saggy in the middle but well worth its two hours. I don’t have much more but I’m keen as ever for Endless Poetry.

8

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The Pearl Button (2015)

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Second time with Guzmán; Nostalgia For The Light, which I watched last year, mixes with The Possibilities are Endless and The Act of Killing in the cream of contemporary documentary film.

Where NFTL slowly teased a cosmic theme through emerging parallels between two Chilean projects seemingly connected only geographically, TPB starts with a central concept – water, in all forms – and expands outwards and chronologically forwards through the country’s history, threading through events like a string through beads.

Haunting archive photography: Chilean immigrants predating the Europeans by several thousand years, Kawésqar faces – silent (silenced) though the water testifies through its own “language” and the historical parallels with, again, Pinochet’s desaparecidos, unaccountably returned to the land from ocean’s “cemetery.”

The other side of Herzog’s golden coin? How does Guzman (again) marry Planet Earth-style macrocosmic montage and gesticulations towards elemental, planetary, cosmic significance with ‘stories’ frustratingly and completely human (absurdity, futility, but visionary possibility)? Here he makes an explicit connection in the mythologies of the Chilean aboriginals but the film is doing the real work around this. Like harmonising brass bass felt deep in the organs with the pitch and heady wail of a violin; breaking out trembling at the skin.

Again effective sparing use of talking heads, though PG’s own voice is more present in this one, and more guiding than in NFTL, which gave the impression that he was learning through telling the story, one of NFTL‘s notable singularities.

Though I’m not qualified to say confidently, this really feels like significant postcolonial work; same reaction as to Pedro Costa’s Horse Money.

Somehow a worthy cousin to one of the better films, documentary or other, of the last half dozen years.

9