Film Review: Endless Poetry (2017) Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky
ENDLESS POETRY (2017) DIR. ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY
By Belle McIntyre
What a perfect title for a deliriously, ravishing ode to youthful self-discovery and passionate embrace of the artistic life and all of it’s sensations in dedication to the making of art. This is Jodorowsky’s story and it is absolutely who he is as an artist. A virtuosic polymath - artist, writer, actor, poet, filmmaker, philosopher, and shaman - he he is prolific in the extreme. This most recent film, a continuation of the autobiographical cycle which began with Dance of Reality, released in 2013, is thoroughly engaging, stylistically unique, gorgeously filmed by the brilliant Christopher Doyle, intuitively cast and flawlessly acted by an agile and gifted team, many of whom have the same last name as the director. And it benefits by being enhanced by original music created by Adan Jodorowsky. Impossible to overlook the genius of this family?
It begins where Dance of Reality left off, briefly reprising the early life of the young Alejandro, portrayed by Jeremias Herskovitz, a callow, timid and fearful adolescent. His life is one of repression and intimidation by his bullying authoritarian father, Jaime, (Brontis Jodorowsky), and his loving but acquiescent mother, Sara (Pamela Flores), whose coping mechanism involves only singing her words in a pure operatic soprano voice and never challenging her martinet of a husband. His father expects and demands that he pursue a career in medicine. In the meantime he is required to work in the family dry goods store after school in the provincial town of Tocopillo, Chile, where he is tasked with identifying shoplifters who are immediately humiliated and excessively abused by the enraged father, while young Alejandro can only look on in misery.
As a sensitive and serious soul, his life is a torment until he discovers a book of poetry by García Lorca, which provides him with a place of solace. His father’s disdain toward this interest in poetry by his son forces him to pursue it on the sly or risk incurring the fearful wrath of the father, who calls him a faggot, when he is caught. Naturally, this only drives him to further pursue the balm of words to heal the harshness of the world. At that moment he determines that his life will be that of a poet. For the first time ever, he has a moment of clarity and sees clearly. His course is set and he will not be deterred. He is on a mission to change the world through poetry.
The film jumps ahead to a still naive Alejandro (now played by Adan Jodorowsky) at age 20. He has left home without a word, and gone to the capital, Santiago, a vibrant, sophisticated and cosmopolitan city and located a cousin he had not known before. He has understood Alejandro completely and introduced him to a marvelously eccentric group of artists who live communally and who welcome him with open arms. They are reminiscent of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and the film takes on a more manic and hallucinogenic mood as we follow this madly creative band. The cousin is his first experience of homosexuality and his awkwardness is touchingly sweet and sensitive. From this point on the learning curve is steep and rapid.
On his first visit to the popular hang out for this group of bohemians, the Cafe Iris, Alejandro meets Stella Díaz, (Pamela Flores again) as a zoftig, tattooed, flaming red wig- and Amy Winehouse makeup-wearing fellow poet, who immediately dominates and mesmerizes the neophyte into willing submission and thus begins a new episode in his formative artistic and sexual education. The Freudian implications are certainly not accidental and the explorations are visually and artistically way over the top in a good way. The Cafe Iris, in it’s sterile all-whiteness and the sepulchral stillness of its seemingly drugged out clientele and staid, top hat-wearing geriatric waiters sleepwalking through their duties, as a backdrop to the vividly colored, untrammeled energy of the artists called to mind the anarchy of A Clockwork Orange. It is one of many stunningly dramatic art directorial decisions that make the work so endlessly fascinating and enthralling.
When Alejandro finally breaks free of the spell of Stella, he finds another teacher/mentor in the person of Enrique Lihn (Leandro Traub), another poet and seemingly kindred spirit. They even resemble each other. Lihn is a nihilistic anarchist and energizes our hero in a more outward-directed way and this pairing produces some spectacularly surreal spectacles of masked carnivals, military parades, bacchanalian celebrations and general debauchery interspersed with beautiful quiet moments of personal introspection, both revelatory and questioning, and often presided over by the ghostly appearance of the actual gray-haired Jodo in person, as a sort of spirit guide á la Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire.
There are more episodes than there is space to write about. Suffice it to say, there is not a dull moment. There is so much creative energy and authenticity embedded in the intentional theatricality, which makes it feel surprisingly personal and accessible in a way that his earlier, more cerebral work was not. There are definitely echoes of Fellini’s 8 1/2 (an acknowledged influence), as well as the work of Buñuel, Kubrick and I kept having flashes of The Grand Beauty of Paolo Sorrentino coming to mind. All of these comparisons are, in no way, meant to diminish the extraordinary originality and beauty of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s phenomenal work. Rather, to put him in the pantheon of these iconic greats where he rightfully belongs and where his unique genius clearly distinguishes him as one among equals.
The good news for me is that I can confidently recommend this film to most of my friends who are not hardcore cinephiles and not necessarily drawn to the strange, unusual and obscure as am I. Not that it is not any of those things. It is all of those things and so much more. It is a rich and rewarding feast for all of the senses as well as the mind and should not be missed. The lingering aftertaste is decidedly delicious.