Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Jodorowsky's Tocopilla: Surrealism in the Atacama

To an outsider’s eyes, Chile’s northerly Atacama desert looks surreal so, on one level, it seems almost logical that the country’s most notorious surrealist – filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky – would come from that region. In fact, Jodorowsky hails from the mining port of Tocopilla (pictured above, where I have spent a few nights over the years), and most of his recent autobiographical film The Dance of Reality, which I saw last Saturday night, takes place there.
As Jodorowsky portrays Tocopilla, it didn’t look much different during his 1930s boyhood than it does today, with houses of Douglas fir on streets that hug the contours of the hills or descend steeply to the port. It wasn’t a romantic boyhood, though, with a politically obsessive and abusive father, and a mother who rejected her son. The ending implies he’s come to terms with that, but throughout the film he provides a wildly visual narrative of a sensitive and non-conformist youth in a conservative society (which he abandoned for Paris as a young adult). It’s worth mentioning that certain scenes are not for the squeamish.
Still, his portrait of Tocopilla rings true in many ways – in its portrayal of mine workers, the slums they live in, and especially the fire department (in Chile, all city fire departments are important social institutions that consist exclusively of volunteers). I was a little disappointed, though, by two of Jodorowsky's omissions: both the Tocopilla Golf Club, a short distance south of town, and the Tocopilla baseball field - this is true sandlot ball - qualify as surrealistic by my standards (the US presence in the mining industry began baseball here, and the community team has often been national champion in what, admittedly, is a niche sport).

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend the film; the trailer at top, narrated by Jodorowsky himself in English, provides a good introduction. Someday soon I’ll have to watch his psychedelic masterpiece El Topo, a fixture at midnight movies for decades after its 1970 release.

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