There are certain directors whose new movies should be cause for jubilation. One of them, without any argument, should be the legendary cult Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. Once the premiere filmmaker for the beautiful philosophies and absurdities one would associate with the surreal (and predating those like David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn, who Jodorowsky would eventually become a mentor of sorts to) with films like El Topo and Santa Sangre, Jodorowsky took an extended period of time off after his last film The Rainbow Thief took a harsh toll on him. When it seemed he would only be a fixture on the Q&A circuit, in 2013, Jodorowsky made an audaciously triumphant return with The Dance of Reailty (La danza de la realidad), the first in a multi-part autobiography of sorts mixing philosophies and styles together. As the second entry in the anthological series, Endless Poetry (Poesía sin fin) demonstrates, the story’s really getting fired up and the man behind the camera is still firing on all cylinders.
Beginning immediately where the introductory title ended – a family standing on a small boat heading into an uncertain future as cardboard cutouts of the people they’ve interacted with “wave” goodbye – the Jodorowskys have relocated from their home of Tocopilla to the Chilean capital of Santiago, where father Jaime (played again by Jodorowsky’s eldest son Brontis) has demonstrated the empathy he discovered in his earlier endeavors was short lived when he subjects two diminutive customers to an especially demeaning abuse outside his shoe store early on, something that carries over into his daily family life. Young Alejandro (also returning is Brontis’s son Jeremias Herskovits to play his grandfather as a younger man) has come to that point all youths reach in life where he’s ready to break away from his father’s near tyrannical ideals of life and lead what he feels destined for.
Fate, and the advice of the director himself, lends a helping hand in the form of a book of Federico García Lorca’s poems, scratching the itch this artistry has left Alejandro with. Jaime, refusing to let his son grow up to become a maricon (you’ll have to look the meaning up on that one for yourselves), forbids the pursuit and demands his son become a doctor in the only way he knows how: harsh intimidation and a psychological effect that’s one of the film’s most visually comedic set pieces. Alejandro’s response: to run away from home, boarding with a group of performers and artists who help him navigate his burgeoning adulthood and what lies ahead on the road to becoming a great poet. As a young adult – beautifully played by Jodorowsky’s youngest son Adan, also serving as the film’s composer – a voyage of adulthood is charted through the bastions of life that will define the man Alejandro becomes, both on and off camera.
First off, homage is demanded for Jodorowsky. Much like its predecessor, Endless Poetry, with such a beautifully opulence and absurdity that ranks with the very best of his oeuvre, is well on its way to becoming part of one of the most ambitious experiments ever committed to narrative film. The idea of an artist using his preferred medium to explore their backstory and those events that shaped their lives is not unheard of, but Jodorowsky, well into his 88th year and armed with quite the storied life, is railroading past the set expectations and, thankfully, showing no signs of stopping. Armed with the lush imagery of legendary cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the exaggerated yet meticulously crafted costumes designed by his wife Pascale and his own stylish reimagining of 1940s Santiago, Jodorowsky’s vision is quite the whimsical experience that further reflects his place as one of international cinema’s most foremost artists.
But there is also the darkness that humanity’s penchant for whimsy is intertwined by, both from the the threat of the changing political climate to the behaviors of close friends and family. A good portion of the film where Alejandro discovers his sexuality, after earlier acknowledging his own heterosexuality at the cost of a friendship with a lovelorn cousin who ultimately comes to a less than whimsical fate, when taking tempestuous poet Stella Díaz Varín as his lover goes to be one of Endless Poetry’s most meditative and provocative sequences. Not because of some deeply philosophical idea about poetry and art broached by the story, but Jodorowsky’s decision to have Pamela Flores, the same actress playing Alejandro’s musically oriented mother Sara (which she also reprises here), play Varín. Much like The Dance of Reality, there’s a certain life that comes to Endless Poetry when Ms. Flores is on-screen, be it as mother or “whore.” Here, with her vibrant crimson locks, theatrical outfits and Fellini-esque tattoos and body paints, it is the embodiment of white-hot passion, rage, jealousy and a perverse beauty that will no doubt inform Alejandro’s talents as poet and inevitable filmmaker.
Once Varín leaves the picture, Alejandro’s relationships with poets like Enrique Lihn (Leandro Taub) and Nicanor Parra (Felipe Ríos) come to be as tempestuous as the ones built on love for their conflicting natures and ideals. The former is constantly undermined by the decisions he’s made in life – and those life has made for him – while Parra comes to believe the world cannot be salvaged by art, preceding a chilling moment where the Chilean people come to support the Nazi-like President Ibañez, waiving swastika flags and adorned in masks blurring actual identity from nationalist idealism. Jodorowsky isn’t afraid to comment on the dark hours of a nation’s descent into madness, but rarely does it feel as raw as it does in these moments, especially when considering what will follow.
The cult heroine Auntie Mame once proclaimed “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” When it comes to Mr. Jodorowsky’s visual poetry, whether it’s endless or isn’t, it is a banquet that gives its admirers plenty to gorge on and still overwhelm the sensations. And, much like its young protagonist disappearing into a fog of uncertainty, Endless Poetry ends on a note of uncertainty and melancholy for what came before, but acknowledging there’s still beauty in life to be found beyond the fog bank, just as there’s beauty and whimsy to be awed by in what lies ahead in the next three chapters of Jodorowsky’s magnum opus.
Endless Poetry is currently playing in limited release and will be expanding out from ABKCO Films over the course of the summer.
By William Coffey