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Alejandro Jodorowsky: 'I am not mad. I am trying to heal my soul'

Alejandro Jodorowsky: 'I am not mad. I am trying to heal my soul'
by Xan Brooks for The Guardian

Missing, believed lost, Alejandro Jodorowsky rolls into Cannes like a conquering hero. He has a room at the Croisette and a film in the directors' fortnight – a rambunctious sidebar away from the Palais. "I am like the rain, I go where I'm needed," the director explains. "If I were in the big house, with the red carpet and photographers and all the fancy women, I would be ashamed." He has always been happier way out on the fringes.

Jodorowsky turned 84 last birthday. He has white hair, bright eyes and a crocodile smile. It is now more than four decades since he thrilled the faithful as El Topo, a mysterious gunslinger in rabbinical black, and 23 years since he last sat behind a movie camera. We thought he was a goner, that it was all over bar the obit. Instead, it transpires, the man is barely getting started.

"Look at this, I show you something," he says, leafing through the pages of the magazine at his elbow. His tour leads us through a world of glossy advertisements. "Beautiful woman – selling things. Beautiful woman – selling things. The Great Gatsby – selling watches." It is the picture of Leonardo DiCaprio that really gets his goat. "Prostitution!" he roars. "He should be ashamed."

Jodorowsky's latest film, La Danza de la Realidad, also feels like the first in that it unfolds as an exuberant magic-realist memoir of the director's own childhood, replete with iguanas, circus clowns and amputees. He shot most of the action in his hometown of Tocopilla, a dirt-poor Chilean village that he found had barely changed in the intervening decades. In a neat generational twist, the director's eldest son, Brontis, plays Jodorowsky's brutish Stalinist dad.

The whole thing was undertaken in a spirit of healing. "My father was a monster," he recalls. "A monster! I cut with my family when I was 23 and I never see them again. Oh yes, it was a terrible thing that I did. But what I am doing here is recovering them and giving them what they never had. My father had no humanity. So here, look, I am making him human."

As a boy, Jodorowsky was bullied for being Jewish and bullied for being bookish. Flight, he decided, was his only option. In Paris, he studied mime with Marcel Marceau and directed Maurice Chevalier in music-hall. In Mexico he outraged the authorities with an avant-garde theatre group. "In Mexico they want to kill me!" he marvels. "A soldier held a gun to my chest."