LIST CANDIDATE: ENDLESS POETRY (2016)

DIRECTED BY:

CAST: , , , , Alejandro Jodorowsky

PLOT: The second chapter in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s proposed cycle of five autobiographical films, “Endless Poetry” concerns his younger self’s fall for poetry, his resistance to his authoritarian father’s pressures to become a doctor, and his liberation from his oppressive family by joining Santiago’s bohemian artist circle.

Still from Endless Poetry (2017)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: While representing some of the most accessible and straightforward storytelling that the author has ever conjured, Endless Poetry is still very distinctively a vision from Jodorowsky, a result of his passionate and eccentric sensibility full of personal symbolism and mystical allusions, bizarre occurrences, and self-aware theatricality. The List’s increasingly limited slots, and the fact that Jodorowsky is already well-represented here, is all that keeps this one at the margin.

COMMENTS: With The Dance of Reality and Endless Poetry, legendary cult cinema hero and weirdophile favorite Alejandro Jodorowsky has entered, at 87 years old, an unexpected phase in his career where he embraces filmmaking as a therapeutic, expurgatory reliving of his past. In this second installment of his autobiographical project (intended as a five film series), we witness Jodorowsky’s adolescence in Santiago and his escape from the oppression of his father and the Darwinist worldview that he tries to enforce on his son, which clashes with the boy’s sensitivity and newfound interest in poetry sparkled by the writings of .

Very much in the same vein as its predecessor, this one takes the form of a psycho-autobiography where the artist renders his life as a mystical, oneiric and carnivalesque myth. Obviously, such a project could only be the product of Jodorowsky’s characteristic pretentiousness. If Dance, however, was relatively melancholic in tone, Poetry is more celebratory and narcissistic, portraying Jodorowsky’s awakening in an appropriately glorifying, joyous display. When Alejandro eventually runs away from home to join an artist’s collective, his immersion in poetry and a bohemian lifestyle is shown as an enlightenment and revelation of his true self and fate. His reception in the community of outcasts is the triumphant reception of a new member in a family, one in which he finally feels he belongs. Like his new siblings, Alejandro’s passion for art is absolute, and he insatiably wishes to “live” poetry. From this moment on, the film chronicles his experiences in the city’s artistic circle, discovering like-minded friends such as Nicanor Parra and Enrique Lihn, and even a lover (played by the same actress who portrays his mother, in a Freudian stroke that remains integral to Jodo’s style).

The idealistic dilettantism that overwhelms and possesses Alejandro is never questioned; the daring and revolutionary mindset of his community is synonymous with liveliness, freedom, realization and self-hood, whereas the world of everyone else is depersonalized, cynical and narrow. Such a mentality may remind some of Dead Poet’s Society, but it’s appropriate here because the film’s essence is that of expressionist theater: every character is a larger-than-life caricature, either passionately professing the transcendental nature of poetry or, like Jaime, condemning all artists as degenerates. Likewise, the movement and gestures are exaggerated, and the visuals some of the most colorful and rich that the director has ever conjured, with a particular eye for contrasts and excesses. There’s also the curious presence of black-clad figurines constantly handing and retrieving props from the characters when necessary. The opening scene poignantly establishes the film’s reality: the present-day Jodorowsky (appearing sporadically throughout the film to advise his younger self) stands in the now abandoned neighborhood that harbored this slice of his existence and explains to the audience how it was brimming with life in his time. As he says this, the figurines hastily transform it in the place of Alejandro’s memory, covering the facades with cardboard scenery and populating it with faceless pedestrians. With this introduction, the film announces from the start that it takes place in the artificial reconstruction of the author’s memory.

Under all of the idealism, however, the psychoanalytical struggle present in Dance persists. Aggressively discouraging his son from artistic endeavors, Jaime maintains that all artists are homosexuals. His father’s notion of masculinity clearly haunts him, and when Alejandro discovers that he is not gay, he is relieved. At the time of the film’s release in festivals, many critics charged that this moment was homophobic, but in context this is a misinterpretation. In fact, Alejandro’s relief comes from his psychic unshackling of his father’s dogmas and the triumph of proving him wrong. As he lays on his bed, he exclaims “I felt free. I grew.” In the next morning, he has literally grown to his 20’s, played by an altogether different actor—another of Jodorowsky’s sons, Adan, whose whimsy and energy make him the perfect stand-in for his father.

Jodorowsky’s complex relationship with his father is still a major, hovering theme, even if it takes a backseat in relation to the uplifting tone. In the end, as Alejandro is heading for a boat to leave for Paris (paralleling the conclusion of Dance), Jaime tries to stop him, leading to a touching scene where the old maestro seems to finally attain closure with his parent. Always with brutal emotional honesty, Jodorowsky is coming to terms with his life and family through the healing power of film. He as always asserted that cinema’s primary function is to regenerate and elevate, the difference being that the spiritual journey he now presents is not one of cosmic transcendence like in The Holy Mountain but his very own individuation. Here, no iconoclastic image is a vain provocation, and even the bizarre moments feel like natural expressions of his nature. As such, he still treats events with mythical grandiosity, and Poetry sprinkled with his trademark surrealism and symbology. As he said in 2013 when promoting The Dance of Reality: “In every frame of this picture, I am giving my blood.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…while Endless Poetry is not without its trademark Jodorowsky surrealism – there are melancholic dwarves, intercessions from the real Jodorowsky and black clad stage hands moving sets around – its weirdness is reined in, favouring instead a sincerity and quite possibly even sentimentality.”–Micheal Bonner, Uncut (contemporaneous)

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